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!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Bici Rodeo Cross, September, and BMO Okanagan 10k

Apologies for slacking on the blogging side, but I've been sick ever since Blitz Duathlon and not doing much with regards to racing / training in the past month.
Here are some notables.

Bici Rodeo Cross

First cyclocross race of the year. A week after Blitz, and was just starting to feel a cough coming on. I had done a decent amount of skills training but very little high intensity training. Ouch!
It was very cold and windy out in the Airdrie Rodeo grounds. I managed to get in two full laps of warmup, but the last one cost me a decent starting position - which pretty much seals your fate in a cross race. I was probably ~20th in the hole shot.
I felt pretty good in the first 2 laps, passing or catching guys on the straights, and mostly holding my own on the technical parts. I did slip up a few times, especially as I fatigued, and ended the race in virtually the same position as I started (not uncommon).

September Stats:

  • Bike: 21 rides, 950 kms, 35 hours, 8,500m elevation
  • Run: 16 runs, 113 kms, 9.5 hours

After this, my cold/cough thing got a bit worse. I went to see a Dr who told me I had a throat infection, and prescribed some antibiotics. With over a week to go before BMO, I figured I'd be well just in time to get in a couple hard runs before the race and still do well.
Unfortunately, the antibiotics did nothing.
I managed one hard run on the preceeding Friday, with a single kilometer at race pace (sub-4 min/km), and was hacking and coughing for a minutes afterwards.
Did a light run in Revelstoke on the way to Kelowna on Saturday, and didn't feel great there either.

BMO Okanagan 10k Run

So the stretch goal was sub 40 minutes, requiring a sub 4 min/km pace for 10k, obviously. I say stretch because I've never even done 5kms at that pace.
That said, I felt I could do it with the reduced elevation (>600m lower than Calgary, which according to runworks, could equate to about 11s improvement).
I line up next to Melissa and a bunch of school kids who are talking about running 3:30's. Yikes.
My plan was to go fast with the lead group, for about 3km, then pull it back for a km, 3 fast, 1 slow, last fast.
Went out hard as planned. Looked at my watch and it said 4:30'! Turn a corner, now it says 3:30. Great...
1 km split goes by, 3:50. I'm feeling pretty good. -10s.
Next km goes by. Little bit slower but still sub 4. Overall, -12s. Still feeling good.
Km 3, lose a few seconds, back down to -10s. Now I'm starting to hack.
I hear a familiar voice behind me. Turn and see Melissa has caught up to me.
Km 4, lose a couple more. -6s. Melissa runs in front of me. Wow she's running strong!
Km 5. I'm fading. Tempted to try to break the 20 min marker, but decide to ease a little and hope to recover. +4s.
The turnaround takes a lot of me. I struggle to get back to speed, and am losing contact with Melissa and another guy I'd been running with.
The next 3 kms are torture, and I lose 56s, and several placements.
In the final 2km I am caught by another guy, and we run stride for stride at around 4:10's until the final 400m, where he accelerates and I'm left with nothing.

Official finish time: 41:50. Not quite personal best, I got 41:30 last year in the Underwear Affair!
Not too disappointed considering the state I went into it, but was hoping for better.

(Melissa on the other hand, killed it! Won the overall women category, time of 40:27!)