Monday, February 26, 2018

First marathon!

"Training for a marathon requires a LOT of running," and other epiphanies learned over the past 3 months.

Coming off of World's Duathlon Championships in Penticton last summer, I was left with a bit of a void in my training. Melissa and I had maintained a very disciplined and determined training regime for months leading up to the race, and exhausted ourselves physically and emotionally in 2 dramatic hours late last August.

We returned to Calgary completely drained, but on a high of satisfaction and relief. I took part in a few more races that fall, starting with Provincial time trial championships, a MEC fondo, and Victoria half-marathon. Each of these events left me a little unsatisfied; I couldn't hold my expected power during the ITT, I flatted and chased for about 90km of the fondo, and I literally stumbled across the finish line in Victoria without nabbing the PB I fully expected.
While my fitness was at an all-time high, my mental game was done for the year.

So, I was as surprised as anyone to hear my mouth say "Yes!" when Melissa suggested we sign up for a marathon in February.
Part of me went along with it because I knew it could provide a tremendous boost to her running ability, and part of me felt like I could pull this off with little pressure on myself; I'm not a runner…guaranteed a PB having never raced this distance…
The timing also fit perfect with my off-season training. I could focus on running until February, keep my weight down over the winter, and start bike training on March 1st.

So, we registered and bought flights to Phoenix, booked a BnB, and Melissa drew up our 3 month training plan.
The first long run was 25 km, and I was bored immediately and in pain by km 20. Hmm, not a great start.

"Marathon pace is actually pretty damn fast!"
The runs got progressively longer, and more speed work was added. I recall a cold, icy run along Calgary's bow river with Darryl Penner, which was to include 12 km at marathon pace (MP). It was then that I realized how quick MP actually is! I struggled in an out and back route, questioning my decision making ability.
The weekly volume went up as did the length of the long run. Set a new distance record for me when we took advantage of a fortuitously timed trip to Seattle and notched 32 km along the scenic Burke-Gilman trail. Though I finished with my intestines upended and my feet in pain, it gave me a much needed lift in spirits that the distance could be achieved.
I also started to really care! No longer was I content with just finishing my first marathon, but I recognized how much work it was going to take, and how much dedication, how much time away from my bike, that I did not want to finish it feeling like I could have done better. There was no second chance at this.
I also wanted to represent Melissa properly. She had designed a creative and challenging program and I owed her my 100% commitment to this plan.
A few weeks later was a planned a 25km run with 15km at MP. It happened to fall on the same weekend as the first MEC running race, which featured a half marathon. Perfect! Sticking to the plan, I warmed up for 4km, then ran at a steady 4:05 / km for 15, along with Melissa and a few others. I felt really comfortable and had the coach's blessing to "do whatever you want after the 15 km" so decided to open it up. The pace felt so easy I couldn't believe it. I finished the final 6km with a 3:53 pace, catching but losing out to 1st place in a sprint finish.
The next big milestone was "peak week." I would amass my highest volume running mileage at >80km, including a Yasso's workout, and finishing with a 36km long run. 2 bike workouts added in there, just for sanity's sake.
The Yasso's workout I did at the 200m track at Repsol Centre. If you're not familiar with the Yasso's workout, it's a mean workout often used a few weeks prior to a marathon to help predict one's finishing time. It indicated 2:51 was possible. Grain of salt applied to these as it assumes one has the physical and skeletal ability to run the full distance and not just aerobically capable.
That weekend was -30C plus blowing snow and high winds, so the long run was going to be inside, again. Sick of treadmill workouts, we went to Mt Royal University track, also 200m in circumference. Just under 3 hours, 180 laps, and 720 right turns later, I finished. I had dialed in my nutrition strategy and, more importantly, had found my zen. My mind and body entered into a rhythm such that I was not going to falter or stumble until it was over.

"Tapering is a leading cause of divorce in endurance athlete marriages"
Sounds like fun on paper… relax, take the night off, carb-loading… far from it. There were some dark days and nights in there as anxiety levels arose and our coping mechanisms were limited (no bike, easy runs only, limited alcohol)!
This is probably the main reason they suggest not doing more than one or two marathons per year.

"Running a marathon is 33.3% physical preparation, 33.3% pacing, and 100% mental fortitude"
Race report: Mandatory belligerent neighbours yelling in the middle of the night outside our room, check. On the plus side, we didn't need our 3:30AM alarm.
Down a bagel with peanut butter and pack our gear and jog the 2km to the busses. Hop on and get carted out of town, to wait in the cold (4C) at the start line, lined up for port-a-potties and huddled around barrel fires like gypsies.
Last minute clothing drop and the fireworks announce the start of our journey back to the red glow of the Phoenix skyline, far away in the distance.
After jostling through the crowd in the opening km, I catch up to Melissa and we settle into a comfortable pace for the first 6 downhill kms. Hundreds have flown past us, succumbing to the allure of the net descent and listening to their lying fresh legs.
The road then turns up for a couple miles, and into a slight head wind. Melissa gracefully and predictably drops me, and soon I am passed by dozens of others, many of which are already wheezing from effort.
Patience. Run within myself. I glance at my HR, which has risen steadily from 150 to 160 on the climb. Ok just hold it there, there's a lot of road left to cover.
Atop the climb I push forward, legs now loose and ready to turn over.
I see that Melissa has not managed to find her first bottle at the aid station (elite runners are able to bring their own bottles and fuel, and have them placed at certain aid stations, however this race had them quite obscured). I bridge up to Mel and share my bottle and offer a gel. It's enough to hold her over until the next station.
Ian Jeffrey rejoins, and soon we are in a pack of about 8.
I cross the half at 1:26:46. A little slower than I figured, but feeling fantastic and confident I can maintain this.
Melissa gaps us after the half as our pace ebbs & flows while she drives steadily forward. Ian and I slog it out over the long expanses in the 2nd half, sections of road several miles long without a turn. I let Ian know that around km 32 I plan to "open it up."
As I cross km 28, I prepare for the "the wall," feared creature of marathon lore that has been known to chew up and spit out nearly every runner around km 30-32. Some say it has to do with low glycogen levels around the 2 hr mark. Some say it's a mental barrier we have fabricated. Either way, I'm totally ready to battle and yell out loud "I'm going to make this wall my bitch."
I anticipate the odometer reading on my Garmin watch displaying 32km like the count down to New Year's. Bring it. I start talking to myself and though my quads have been arguing with me since the early miles, their nagging is increasing in frequency.
But each time it hurts, it also goes away. I remind myself of this every time now. Km 33 arrives and now I'm into single digits. I can tell the wall is starting to doubt itself, though it hasn't surrendered yet.
The next couple km's it fights me, especially as I turn corners and have to regain my cadence. I see what the wall is trying to do… "bring it on, corners!" I bellow.
Then it succumbs, around km 35. I start getting faster and faster. I see Melissa in the distance and hope I can make it up to her so we can cross the finish together. She's looking strong, wow! I am further inspired. I catch her with about a mile to go, on a descent to the finish, and my legs are screaming but somehow only getting faster. I clock a final 5km in 19:45, with the last km at 3:38, completing my 2nd half in 1:25 50, including a 1 min negative split for a total time of 2:52:35.

So, what now? Yes, it meets the qualifying times for my age for Boston, Chicago, and London (3:15), and even NYC (2:58). Not gonna lie, even though I'm still limping 2.5 days later with no end in sight, I kinda liked it. I enjoyed having a race that allowed enough time to screw it up, enough time to think, to dial in to myself and my mind, and push myself beyond anything I've ever done before.
There was a sense of urgency in this first one as I'm turning 42 this year and it felt poetic to run 42 kms. Right now I'm shifting my focus back to bike racing and we'll see how 2018 unfolds.
Or maybe I'll leave my fate in the hands of the almighty rollup…

Full results here.
Strava link here.

  • 1/2 whole wheat bagel with natural peanut butter
  • starbucks oatmeal with brown sugar & nuts
  • small coffee.
  • Half a bottle of water on the way up to the start.

  • 1 hand-bottle (20 oz) with Skratch Matcha Green Tea & Lemons mix (80 cals)
  • 1 Endurance Tap Energy Gel, maple syrup (100 cals) - eaten at km 10
  • 1 pack of Jelly Belly sport beans (100 cals) - 1 bean every km from 20-35
  • 1 sip of water at each aid station, every 2 miles

Start: 4C
Finish: 12C

Enjoying post-race pool-side Pina Coladas with legendary runners, the Deere's, Keith Bradford, Jody Draude, and Ed Bickley.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

2017 Canadian National Duathlon Championships, Magog, QC

Shaking the hand of the 2017
Canadian National Duathlon Champion!
7.7 seconds.  In a race lasting 2 hours, 9 minutes, and 59 seconds, this accounts for less than 0.1%.
The opportunity to stand on the top step and represent Canada alongside my amazing wife as king and queen national champions in the oft-misunderstood sport of Duathlon was literally within spitting distance (assuming a decent sized loogey and a good tailwind).  
On the plus side, I had the best view of the new national champion, Mathieu Paquet, raising his arms and running through the ribbon!
Surely I could have found 7.7 seconds somewhere on the course? So let’s rewind and see how the race played out.

Wednesday. Kieran comes home with a nasty stomach flu. Activate full on containment efforts, short of hazmat suits.

Thursday. Temperatures start to climb again in Calgary, making 30C in our non-AC household a tough recovery environment. Big thanks to @ryanvanorman’s wonderful Animal names sleeping trick®

Friday. Weigh-in results: lowest weight attained by me since the digital scale was invented. Pack TT bikes into new EVOC bike bags and pray for a good night rest. (prayer not answered)

Saturday. Drop off kids and take early flight, which happens to go WAY smoother than expected, despite the Stampede crowds and big bike bags. Arrive in Montreal, rent Jeep, drive 90 mins to Magog, unpack and reassemble bikes, 30 min safety test bikes, pre-drive the bike course (yikes it’s hilly), and eat Poutine. Pray for a good night’s sleep (prayer unanswered).

Sunday. 5AM wake-up call, which for us Albertans feels like 3AM. 91% humidity, apparently, which basically means you sweat just by breathing. Quick breakfast and checkout of our BnB and hit the start. Mel and I get a warmup in and are drenched from sweat in about 5 minutes. Ok, time to settle down. A 30 min delay in our start time means we sit and drink water and occupy port-a-potties, and repeat.

Ok, now to the actual race. Bang, off we go, double file through a tight path and by 1km I am running a brisk 3:50/km and sitting in about 25th!  Ok did I miss a memo about Quebecois running pedigree? Oh well, “stay within myself,” a wise man once said to me*, and that’s exactly what I did. By the end of the first 5km loop I had moved up about 2 or 3 positions gradually, and first place was about 2 minutes ahead of me. At this rate, I will have a 4 minute deficit to overcome on the bike. Sounds doable on this course. Do not panic.
Another loop and after picking off a few more scraps, I enter transition sitting around 14-16th, with an average pace of 3:57 (fast, but *hopefully* within my abilities).  I definitely have my work cut out for me. I was expecting a couple guys to have gotten away, but over a dozen? How could I even keep track of them all, especially with a couple Triathlons taking place at the same time on the course?
The thing about any multisport event is that you have a finite amount of funds in each sport’s bank account, but can borrow some funds from the other sport’s account, but with a heavy interest rate. Oh, and you're never told what your balance is. In a perfect duathlon, you burn through 2/3 of your running funds in the first run, 100% of your bike funds on the bike, and completely empty all reserves of running on the final run.
In reality, most people dip into the other account too heavily and are left with a nasty bill during the final run, often consisting of slowness, cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and other nasty over draft charges.

So, on to the bike. Touted (by me) as the gnarliest bike course in any duathlon, with 2 loops of 20km, up to Mont Orford ski resort. Coach’s instructions were to read the course and field on the first lap, and work it on the 2nd lap. Well, the field at this point consisted of predominantly athletes competing in different races, so that wasn’t going to help, but I did feel comfortable on the bike and climbing felt good. Also feels good to pass 200 hundred triathletes like they’re moving backwards.
Finish the 40km bike in 1:06:53 with an average speed of about 36 kmph. Slow by multisport standards, but with the 1500 feet of elevation and technical layout, good enough for the individual bike course record and strava segment. And good enough to move me from 14th to 3rd in the race.
I had no idea of this, other than there seemed to be very few bikes in the Duathlon designated transition area…

The run felt good and I realized I had not overdrawn on my remaining running funds and I pushed on, with paces getting faster and faster. In the final kilometer, I buried myself, thinking any one of the people in front of me could be doing the Dua, and I passed tons. With just meters to go I see the finish line banner and Paquet lifting his arms as he crosses through it and realize… that could have been me!!  Run two: 5.1km in 19:35 (3:51/km).
So, could I have shaved 7.7 seconds off at any point in this week? Had I slept better, or eaten more aero oatmeal, or used my full disk wheel instead of my lighter races wheel, or shaved my nose hair, etc?
My transition times alone were 27 seconds longer than Paquet’s. Could I have pushed one or two hills on the bike a smidge harder. Could I have pushed a little harder on the first run?

The answer is no. I gave this everything I had on this day. I paced the first run as fast as I felt comfortable doing, changed my shoes in transition as fast as I could, hydrated and poured cups of water on me at every station, cycled within my abilities and ran my ass off in the final run, with the final kilometer at 3:37/km. After 2 hours, that’s a full on sprint for me! Paquet ran that final 5km in 20:45, but blasted a 3:29 in the final kilometer… taking 8 seconds on me despite my all-out best.
On this day, 2:09:59 was the absolute best I could have done and it earned me the Silver medal in the Canadian national championships of the peculiar sport of Duathlon, and I couldn’t be more proud.
I also happened to be the only guy on a podium that day to see his wife crowned the national champion in the same event! Wow, what an honor!
Definitely some things to tune up before World’s in August, but for now, we celebrate our successes in a beautiful part of this country that has adopted me and allowed me to represent it in competition.

 Full results can be found here.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Where did THAT come from?

I'm hardly in a position to write a "Secrets of my success" story; I have not broken any World Records, won any bike races, or made any headlines in recent years.
But I have come off arguably one of my best seasons of racing in 2016, with massive improvements to my cycling power numbers, running speeds, and racing intelligence, and I can't help but reflect and share my thoughts on how this came to be.

But let's rewind a bit, as it's been 3 years since my last post and it's probably best to recap a bit.
2013 saw me bike racing in cat 3, dabbling in cyclocross, running, and duathlon.
I raced the BMO Okanagan 10k in 41:50 and averaged merely 250W for the 30k Provincial Time Trial.
That season I only attained half of my upgrade points for cat 3, despite racing nearly everything on the calendar.

2014 was the first season for Peloton Racing, the cycling club Mike and I started. This led to an inspired first half of the year with the prospect of riding with teammates. Alas, with Mike in cat 2, it wasn't until the last couple weeks that I finally got to really race with Karel and JVD. If you've never raced road bikes before on an organized team, let me tell you, there is an instant elevation in your abilities. Karel and Jack made sacrifices for me and I was able to get enough points to upgrade to cat 2!
Finished the season off with 2nd place at Blitz Duathlon, after focusing on running for a few weeks but with plenty of carry-over cycling fitness.

With a jump to the big leagues (of Alberta cycling) for 2015, I knew I was in no condition to compete unless I enlisted a coach. JVD was an obvious choice as both a teammate and friend, and has a track record second to none in cycling and multi-sport.
My goals were pretty simple, work on my FTP to get my TT times at cat 3 podium level. I had no delusions about my TT ability versus other cat 1/2 men, but that would at least give me respectable times.
My other goal was to keep running on my calendar so that I could keep up my elite runner fiancee.
She would start bike racing this year as well, and both having the same coach helped coordinate our weekly workout schedule to put in runs and rides together, aka "date nights."
Well, first ABA stage race Velocity, I get 32/44 in the ITT, and subsequently dropped from the road race later that afternoon. This was going to be a looong season. BUT... my time in the ITT would have put me 3rd in cat 3!
My power numbers were up over last year and I reached my training goal. The rest of bike season went much the same; coming in bottom 2 in each ITT, getting dropped in each road race, and getting lapped for the first time ever in a criterium!
With a bit more focus on base and general aerobic strength, my running was coming along better.
I came in 3rd in the Footstock Duathlon, coming into T2 tied with first but my hands were too frozen to get my helmet off! At Blitz, I flatted right before the bike turnaround in a great position. Later in Kelowna, I set a new PB in the BMO 10K at 39:43. Oh, and did I mention I married my best friend, lover, and training partner that summer, atop Sulphur Mountain! Regardless of my lackluster race performances, this was easily the best year of my life!

Then I did something I haven't done before... I took time off. Surgery forced me to 6 weeks off running and cycling! In the past 5 years, my previous record was 3 days! As I eased back in, I took up swimming a couple times a week, and when the snow came, Mel (also coming off a month-long injury-forced hiatus) and I decided to take up cross country skiing, and loved it!
I also added stair running. 
For the next 3 months, I averaged about 1-2 bike, 1 run, 1 stair, 1 swim, and 1-2 xc ski activities per week.
Oh the variety! I was loving every one, none of them feeling like a "workout," though many scored some pretty serious TSS. 
It wasn't until March that I decided to re-enlist Jack to coach me, but this time my goals were different.
Bike racer. Nothing else should interfere with this plan, from March until July. One more kick at cat 1/2.
After that I could assess where I was at, switch focus to duathlon or running or bbq'ing...

I felt like my fitness level was high, despite my lack of bike time. My weight was down from the cross-training and I hit some new power numbers in Penticton camp in April. Nothing dramatic, but a good start.
More interestingly, I could recover from my workouts better and my endurance on long rides was at an all time best. Hard to quantify those benefits, but I could tell this year was going to be different.
I spent little to no time on my TT bike this year, but rather built on top of my base with some highly specific sharpening of the upper training zones.
But would it pay off in racing cat 1/2?

May 14th, Velocity ITT, 16km. Passed by my 1 minute man around km 2. My 2 min man passed me about one km later. My power numbers were dropping, and my lungs and legs were failing me. Then my Garmin mount came loose. Then my 3 and 4 min men passed me... I'll spare the expletives I was thinking, but let's just say morale was at an all time low.
I had been sick all week and wasn't completely surprised by this disaster, but the team was so supportive, with Melissa and Stephan Becker winning their categories, and several others in the top 5.
The road race later that afternoon forced me to stop dwelling on my defeat. Having been dropped in that race in previous years, I set my expectations pretty low; complete 3 laps (might as well get a ride in).
Well, 3 laps came and went and the pace was pretty modest and I started feeling good. I went to the front and pulled. I chased. I even broke away and formed a chase group that stayed away and almost caught a 6-man break. I finally felt like I was racing again! Managed a decent sprint after 140kms, good for 10th! Morale was an all-time high again, just like that.
The next day, I felt a bit of intimidation lining up for the crit. But, like the day before, I found my racing legs and hung on. Didn't tango in the sprint, but was very happy with a 15th place finish (and not getting lapped!)

The rest of the bike racing season would see me hang on in every crit and smash my power numbers. My Canada Day Crit normalized power for 1hr was 339W! 2 days later I finished 2nd in my age, 5th overall in the Great White North Duathlon, qualifying me for World's in 2017, despite little to no running.
I would finish off bike season with an 8th place finish in a semipro-stocked Tour De Bowness criterium, and among the lead group of 4 in a strong MEC century race.

Then I switched to running, and after a month of footwork, proceeded to set new PB's in the 5K (18:43), 10k (38:22), and my first half-marathon (1:24:12).

So... what lead to this breakthrough? After training and racing competitively for 7 years, how did I crack through my plateau?
I've noticed a trend among other racers in cycling and running lately and a few themes leap out.

Take Time OFF
All endurance athletes I know have something in common, some addictive personality type that is fueled by working out. It helps us deal with health, weight, stress, kids, family, etc. After competing at a high level for so long, this workout routine is so engrained that it's very difficult to break it, and yet that is exactly what our bodies and minds need to fully recover and heal after multiple seasons of high volumes and intensity.
Everyone has seen a racer sustain an early-season injury and come back near the end of the season fired up!

Hire a coach
We also often measure our success by watching others. I've certainly been guilty of coming home after a good 3 hr bike ride, feeling accomplished, only to upload to Strava to see so-and-so posted a 5 hr ride and suddenly feel like my effort was inadequate. Once I found a coach I trusted, I never had that feeling again. I knew that my 3 hours were part of the plan for the week, and that week fit into the plan for the season. A good coach will push you to try things you wouldn't even imagine doing in training, giving you an unbiased assessment of your capabilities. Whether it's forcing you to push harder, or forcing you to take a rest day, it's one thing very difficult for even the most seasoned athletes to do themselves.

Find something ELSE
Half the people reading this will immediately tune out, but here's a way to take time off your primary sport while sustaining your mental and physical fitness.
Last year I took up swimming, stair climbing, and cross country skiing and did not even think about the bike for months. It kept my weight and endurance in check, such that when I was ready to bike, I was truly ready!

Turn off the Garmin
Ok that's crazy talk, especially coming from me. Strava or it didn't happen, right?
Ok ok, I don't mean actually turn it off, but don't rely on it. What happens when doing an FTP test where your expectation is X watts? You typically achieve X watts, or lower.
Set out with a 40 minute 10k goal and that is likely the best you will attain.
Once in a while, it's helpful to recalibrate and go on feel. Push on up hills, recover when you've pushed too hard. I know it's not the prescribed pacing strategy and I know it's an inefficient use of your glycogen stores by not pacing evenly, but it's a great way to release yourself from the confines of your own self-assessed limitations.

Enjoy yourself
There is a time and place for high intensity, long endurance, or overloading training stress. But in the off-season, go on 'rate of perceived fun.' Run until you're not LOVING it anymore. Ride as hard as you like, taking the time to appreciate your surroundings, nature, your family. Take it easy, meet new people, discover new roads. If your kids or spouse isn't as fanatical about the sport as you are, now is the time to invest in the future of the rest of your lives. Find a tangentially related past-time that you both enjoy, hiking, skiing, etc.

In the end, you will all do what you wish and my only reason for writing this is that I have discovered these to have been tremendously beneficial for me and want to write it down, as I continue my eternal search for unlocking the hidden potential in myself and my loved ones. Watching Melissa elevate her performance this year and watching my 12 year old son discover his first crush with running fills me with such hope and pride that I am inspired to update my blog again.
Hopefully it won't be another 3 years until my next post!