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Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Calgary 70.3

What a venue! I mean, the picturesque mountain views and the beautiful clear and sunny skies of Calgary is something everyone has to experience. The nights are wonderfully cold and the days can be unimaginably hot. This makes for an interesting race preparation considering I would be freezing in the morning after an ice-cold swim, but dying from the relentless heat of the sun by the run as the temperatures rose into the 30's.

I started my week with lots of course recon and even had the opportunity to speak in a pro-panel at the local bike shop. The race organizers had set-up an "Ask the Pros" seminar that I got to participate in, this time as the "Pro". I was sitting next to some pretty accomplished athletes and when considering the pedigree in the room I questioned why I was even allowed to be a pro. But – despite my naivety as a pro – I think was able to provide some good advice to a lot of the age-grouper questions.

I was also very surprised by some answers from the other pros. Some had great ideas that I had never thought of, and some had rather pessimistic philosophies on training and racing. My favourite bit of advice was from Jordan Rapp who answered one question: "What do you eat race morning?" I listened carefully on this one as well because I had never really tuned in on the perfect solution (still haven't) and wanted to know what one of the best in the business had to say. I still follow Jordan's recommendation today and it has given me the best results in terms of my stomach satisfaction on the run. He said that he "tries to get the most calories in the smallest package possible." This means eating the most calorie dense foods, like peanut butter, chocolate, and gels and avoiding heavy foods like bagels and toast. There is a perfect balance for everyone, but the difficulty is the number of times it takes to get it right. On top of that there are also so many other variables that can contribute to problems eating during ironman racing. But no matter what, I've stuck to the philosophy of most calories in smallest package possible for race morning.

Race day was pretty spectacular, the sun was blazing and the wind was favourable. Oh, it was also 5ºC, or 41ºF. I swear the lake was just as cold. What a great time to try my new sleeveless wetsuit. I shivered at the start line waiting for the cannon to send us off, and the BOOM! I sprinted to the water with the Pro men and dove into the icy water. My face was stinging and my feet were numb but I just swam as hard as I could. But it wasn't hard enough. I quickly lost the pack and was alone in the icy lake, discouraged by how quickly I had lost the group after such a great start in Tremblant. It could have been the cold making me delirious, but I swear I saw one guy pass me swimming back-stroke. With 100m to go I was caught by the lead females. At least now I'd have someone to bike with.

 I can't think of a time when I was colder. I couldn't even feel my fingers to put on my shoes while I tried to stay balanced on my bike over the speed bumps (that's something I should practice in training). The pictures don't show it, but I was shivering beyond control for the first 30 kilometres. I was pedalling at my max effort just to try to stay warm. I can at least thank the super-fast ladies I was with for pushing me to work so hard. I also want to thank the photographers for taking such stunning photos on the course, these are the best race photos I have from any race.

By the end of the bike, the wind had picked up and was pushing us back home at crazy speeds. I think the last 45 km only took an hour. T2 was also a surprise, because it was 20 kilometres from T1. The volunteers were excellent in directing me, however, and I found my racking spot easily. It also helps being at the back of the pro pack because there's only one section of racking filled with bikes, and that must be where yours goes too. I through on my shoes and started running.

By this time the mercury must have read almost 30º and was rising. But I felt great and was so relieved to finally be warm. I can handle the heat pretty well and I tend to suffer when it's cold. I was running stride for stride with a fellow Canadian female pro who was an Olympian. It's moments like these that make me love every decision in life that led to this point. I was trying to give her race info on her competitors and when I last saw them. She was so determined and was running so smoothly. I thought if I could just run with her for the first 10k to see how I felt I might have a good chance at getting a best time. At 6k, however, the course throws you a massively steep hill that broke me. I didn't save enough to keep up with her to the top and my pace dropped and she was gone. Oh to be 30 pounds lighter. I kept going to the turn around refocused on my nutrition. I was starting to feel the mistakes I had made on the bike and was lacking calories. I walked the next aid stations to get in as much cola as my stomach would allow. The refreshing fizz added a hop to my step and each time I felt a little better. The hill on the way home was equally terrible, though this time I managed to keep a steady pace. From the top it was all down-hill to the finish. 5k to go, 4k, 3k... Each step was agony and my foot was starting to scream in pain. 2k. This felt like a sprint now and I was gasping in air at max capacity. Final kilometre. The cheering fans make this part way easier and I ran across the line in 4:23. Not what I had hoped for but I was not disappointed with my performance.

I had a few friends from Waterloo racing there with me in the age-group division. I managed to get a picture of Matt Harrop finishing his first ever 70.3. It was once again inspiring to watch him finish and hear about his race experience. It always brings me back to why I started in the first place, and how we're so lucky to be healthy and able to do things like this. Albeit a little crazy to think that this is fun for some people, we love challenging ourselves and the vehicle of triathlon has been one of the most rewarding paths I have taken. Matt has since completed Ironman 70.3 Muskoka several times and Ironman Muskoka (what a champion). He is also racing Ironman Tremblant this August and I will be sure to follow him.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Getting Back Into the Game

I know it's been a long time since I've posted, but I promise to get back. So many things have happened since 2014 that I don't know where to begin, but my plan is to post short and sweet to give updates on the last 2 years and eventually catch up to today. So, the easiest way I thought would be to look at my phone pictures in order and start from there...

Let's start with June 20th, 2014 at Ironman 70.3 Tremblant. This was probably my best race of the season, even though I was slower than the previous year. I finished 6th in the Pro category in my 3rd race of the year, one spot out of the $$, but oh well. I had a great race and week with the old Team Energi crew. My best memory of this was during the swim when I was shoulder to shoulder with the green wetsuit of Trevor Wurtele. He was the only one with a green suit on so I knew it was him, and I knew he was one of the guys expected to win. I was so excited that I was keeping up that I miss-timed the first turn and by the time I had re-oriented I was two strokes off the back and out of the draft. I put in a solid minute of effort to catch up but they kept getting away and the bubbles from their feet slowly faded. I lost a minute on them and that was the last I saw of the lead group until the run. Lesson learned was to keep your cool, but that was one of the coolest moments of racing that year.

After that race, I spent some time
back at home with my buddy Brian. It was nice to have a weekend off after 4 consecutive weekends of racing. I remember enjoying perhaps a few too many beers, but it was a much needed respite from all of the work I had been doing. This picture was pretty cool, because I'd lived in Haliburton and gone to school there for years, but never gone up to the lookout. We went on a short hike to Skyline Park and the view was pretty amazing.

I suppose I also (re)discovered I had a a shoe problem when I got home and had to document the results. These were most of my running shoes that I had accumulated over the years, and I have the hardest time throwing them away. I'm sure I still have them all stashed somewhere in the attic.

Next stop was Calgary 70.3. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay at my cousin's place and have use of his car while he was away (Thank you so much Robbie!). I'll start from here in my next post, but this should be good for now to get me started again.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

BLADE Carbon Wheels

ITU World Champs 2011, Las Vegas.
Since I started my traithlon career in 2010, I've had the opportunity to race on all kinds of different wheels. Clincher, Tubular, Zipp, Sram, Pro-lite, Reynolds, Renn, and my current wheelset - Blade. If you're anything like me, you love new technology that looks fast. If it doesn't look fast, it probably isn't. This post is dedicated to my experience with time trial race wheels and what to look for when getting a good set of race wheels.

My first set of race wheels were a set of 2010 SRAM S80/S60 combo. Steel bladed spokes with structural carbon fibre and aluminum rims. I still think these wheels are one of my favourites, but that could be just because they were my first wheels that I love them so much. The rode excellent and could take a huge beating. I used them at all distances, from Spring triathlon, to 70.3 World Championships, ITU Long Course World Championships, and Ironman Mont-Tremblant. They stayed perfectly true for the 2 years I rode them and looked great.
I painted the SRAMs lime green for IMMT 2012 and turned a lot of heads when I rode by.
I, like most triathletes, wanted to upgrade and get something new. I tried a tonne of other wheels trying to decide what I wanted. First were a set of Zipp tubular 1080/808 combo on continental tires. I only raced a duathlon in these and was somewhat let down. Zipp was supposed to be the best money could buy, but these didn't feel as fast or as stiff as the SRAM set I had before. Certainly lighter and they looked sweet, but I didn't feel like they were worth their dollar value.

Next was an old Pro-lite Padova disc (tubular) with aluminum rims and a front Reynolds deep dish carbon clincher. I had never ridden a disc before this and this wheel convinced me that I needed to get a disc. Not the lightest wheel combo, but I can attest to the pounding the Padova can hangle. There's even videos on youtube of people jumping on the middle of these wheels and it stays perfectly true. Also, the biohazard-like decal is badass. The Reynolds front was good but I feel bladed spokes could significantly improve this wheel.

Pro-lite/Reynolds combo. Got to drive the Subaru lead car after the race in Milton!
Next I was introduced to BLADE wheels through a company called GoRiding.ca. They were certainly affordable so I bought a set of 88mm carbon clinchers. I had choice of decal colour, spoke colour and nipple colour so I chose blue decals, white spokes and red nipples. I bought this set of wheels, but was also able to demo all other wheels BLADE had to offer. The best part is all wheels are made with excellent quality hubs with ceramic bearings. The rolling resistance is non-existent. I was blown away by how long these wheels would keep spinning. The line-up includes:
Bike set-up that let me ride a 4:54 in Hawaii
Carbon Trispoke clincher/tubular
60mm carbon clincher/tubular
88mm carbon clincher/tubular
Carbon Disc tubular
60mm carbon clincher/tubular
88mm carbon clincher/tubular

My first set were a pair of 88mm tubulars in the Guelph Lake Triathlon. I rode a best time on the course, which included a crash and mangled hip for 39 of the 40km bike. Needless to say they were fast and definitely could withstand a beating. 

Me with my Rudy helmet on NBC!

Next I raced the clincher version of the same set in Ironman Mont-Tremblant. They felt the same as the tubulars and were super light on the climbs. A+ again for the Blade wheels. I then got debut Blade at the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. I know it can be extremely windy in the lava fields and I was hesitant about using the 88mm set, so I borrowed a 88mm rear/60mm front tubular set. I brought the clinchers too just in case. Again, super fast and I had my best bike split ever over the 180k ride of 4h:54m. I even got TV coverage on the NBC broadcast, must have been the colours.

This year I still have my 88mm clinchers and have borrowed a tubular disc and trispoke - the coolest combination of wheels one could possible own. They looked bad-ass and the sound they make when you ride them...ugh. Now I was the guy with the whoosh whoosh as I rode passed my competitors.

The first race was a sprint triathlon in Milton Ontario. I was 5th out of the water but had the second fastest 30k bike split of 44 minutes, which included a climb up the Niagara escarpment, and climbed my way to second. They felt fast and awesome and holding 40k/hr felt easier than ever before. 

Made it on the poster add after winning the Florida
Intimidator Half Iron Triathlon in Clermont

Next was Ironman 70.3 Eagleman in Cambridge Maryland. It was a perfectly flat 90k course so I thought it would be perfect for this set. I set a new personal best in the bike and rode a 2:15. I was convinced that these could compete with any other disc/front wheel combination on the market.

I would rank these wheels as some of the best on the market in terms of durability, speed, quality, and price. They look great and are well made. I took some pictures during Eagleman with my bike and the four different wheel combinations I could make. Check them out and check out the website www.bladecarbonwheels.com.

Original set-up with 88mm carbon clinchers.

Rear 88mm carbon clincher with front carbon tubular trispoke.

Rear carbon tubular disc with front carbon tubular trispoke.

Rear carbon tubular disc with front 88mm carbon clincher

Friday, 23 May 2014

Florida 70.3

What an experience. If the saying holds that you learn the most from your defeats, this was a good learning experience. Everything leading up to the race went perfectly, I felt rested, my stomach was behaving, and logistics couldn't be smoother at the race venue.

5:30am - I get to transition and rack my bike, #26. We even had our own porta-jon with big orange tape on the front door spelling "PRO". Every bike on the rack was nice, I mean really nice. Only 2 other athletes, not including me, didn't have a disc wheel. Once everything was set up and I had checked my gears and pedals I went for a warm-up run. It's different running through the crowd with the "P" on your calf and tattooed numbers on your arms. I don't even know if this is true, but when I was warming up I felt like all eyes were on me. When I was an age-grouper I was mesmerized by the pro athletes. Now that I was a pro I felt I had to set a good example. I had to warm-up properly and act like I was in the zone and focused (even though I was going out of my mind with nervous energy). I got back from the run and sipped on my Powerade.

At 6:15am transition officially closed and all athletes were told to make their way to the swim start. The water temperature was measured at 74F which is wetsuit legal. I found a park bench where other age-group athletes were changing and started putting my wetsuit on. It was already warm and humid out so I wanted to spend as little time as possible in my wetsuit before I could get in the water. I got to the beach and helped another pro zip up, and they zipped my suit. At 6:30 we were allowed to start warming-up in the water. I ate my last gel, finished my water bottle and hopped into the alligator infested Lake Eva. They say there are not alligators, but how could they possibly know.

6:45am - It's still pitch black out. There a hint in the horizon that the sun might come up, but the race is supposed to start at 6:50am and I can't see the second buoy. It doesn't help that the humidity is making my goggles fog up. Everyone makes their way to the "deep" water start line. It was only 4 feet deep. The sun started rising with 2 minutes to go as the Star Spangled Banner echoed across the lake. It was a really cool moment. As the announcer sang the national anthem and the sun lit the sky with more colours than I can describe, I the thought of the work I had put in over the last 4 years, the hours of training, the early morning swims, the 6 hour rides on weekends, the hours spent on the indoor trainer and treadmill in the winter; it all paid off. I was here. What a perfect moment.

Swim start a few waves after the Pro start at 6:50 am
The gun went off and I started sprinting. At first I assumed I would be dropped by everyone and have to swim alone, but to my surprise I was swimming with a pack of 10 or so others for the first 500 meters. By the first turn buoy I was overheating in my wetsuit. There is no way wetsuits should be legal if the water is this warm. My breathing turned into gasping for each breath, my heart-rate started racing and I felt dizzy. I tried to stay calm and follow the feet in front of me, but I could barely see through my fogged goggles and I started to fall off pace. I stopped kicking and just focused on relaxing and getting my heart-rate back down. On the last 500 meter stretch into shore I saw a group of 3 or 4 ahead of me so pushed to catch them.

I reached the beach a few meters behind them and started running up the sand to transition. The path is lined with spectators and other athletes cheering me on, so I have to run. Even though my heart-rate is spiked, I can't breath, I'm struggling to get out of my wetsuit, and I'm dizzy, I keep running - 250 meters uphill to my bike.

You can't see it, but I'm struggling haaaard to breath and take off my suit and run all at the same time
In past races, the first section of the bike is when I settle into a pace and focus on getting my legs underneath me before I start to push. This was different. I tried to follow the pro ahead of me, but I couldn't catch up. He wasn't getting any further, but no matter how hard I pedaled I couldn't real him in. After 15 miles of my chest exploding and my legs screaming I eased off. The pace was relentless and I was riding alone. I knew there were others behind me that I could wait for and then hopefully ride with them. At mile 18, two athletes flew by me like I was standing still. I couldn't believe their pace. I pushed up to speed and tried to pace with them but could only hang on for 2 more miles before I decided that this pace would kill me. I watched them pedal away and felt my motivation drop. I was in my first pro race and I was completely outmatched. I finished the swim in one of my slowest times, and couldn't ride with anyone else on the bike. I didn't think there was anyone else behind me and I felt my heart sink to my feet.

Suddenly another rider went by, then another. I felt a second (or third) wind and paced up to them. This didn't seem impossible. I was riding at their pace and I wasn't dying...yet. I was riding the edge to hang on but this was my last chance and I wasn't going to miss it. I hung on for the next 15 miles and for some reason decided to pass. I was getting a lot of look-backs from them as if they expected me to do some of the leading, so that's what I did. I don't know why because I didn't feel I could pedal any faster. We kept taking turns in the lead staying as draft legal as we could and astonishingly I broke away with 5 miles to go. I felt like I had a second wind, or I was just really excited it was going to be over soon.

Tied my fastest ever bike split of 2:19, but most of this ride was solo so I feel this deserves some cred
I arrived at transition with one other athlete, but I knew the two I was riding with earlier were close behind. I usually have fast transitions and I was able to get out of transitions with a couple second lead. Legs felt pretty sore but nothing I hadn't felt before, so I pushed the first few minutes. The sun was directly above now and temperature was climbing fast. I hit the 1st mile marker and no one had passed me yet. First aid station and still feeling ok, then the first hill at mile two and the wheels literally fell off the bus. My back and hamstrings were suddenly on fire and I was running slower than I could have walked. I tried to stretch but the pain wouldn't go away. Shortly after I was passed by both of the other pros I was riding with. The pain was unbearable and there was no way I could grit my teeth and ignore it to try and follow them. I watched them go, along with any aspirations to have a good run split.

Once the hills were over at mile 3 I tried to just run between aid stations and get in salt and water to stop the cramping. I'm not used to the heat and I most definitely didn't drink enough on the bike, now I'm paying for it. The first lap felt like an eternity. I returned to the hills for a second time and the same thing, extreme hamstring cramping. How could this be happening! I wanted to quit, I gave up 3 or 4 times in my head and just started walking. I wanted to cry, I hated that I had screwed up, I didn't understand why this was happening when my race prep had been so good. It took a few minutes to get passed the pain and determination took over. I've never quit anything before, and I'm not going to start today. RUN! Run even if it kills you.

I was totally committed, even if it came to this.
I ran the entire 3rd loop and even up the hills. I couldn't believe the pain but I knew I would never forgive myself if I didn't give it everything. This is pain training now. I crossed the line in 4 hours 25 minutes, which to most people is excellent, but I wanted to be under 4:20. Disappointed in the time, but not the effort, I stumbled away from the line supported by one of the volunteers. I felt like collapsing and my legs were screaming. I went to the ice bucket and put handful after handful of ice down my suit to numb my hamstrings. I heard someone yell out my name and looked up to see my homestay hosts standing at the fence waving at me.

I suddenly forgot all of the pain and felt an extremely humbled. The family that took me as their guest for the week had come out to watch my entire race. I didn't even know they were there but I was so happy to see them. I can't possibly thank them enough for being there and supporting me. We took some pictures and I gave them a breakdown of how I felt.

In the end, it was a great day and I learned a lot. I know I need to drink more when it's hot and I'm sure my coach will decipher more lessons for me. Florida 70.3 is an excellent track and I recommend it to anyone looking for a challenging early season race to test their fitness. The town is great, the people are great, and the food is great. I can't find anything to complain about.

#1 Homestay host and me. Thank you Kluytenaar family for an excellent week!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Haines City, Florida

Lets just start by saying that winter in Canada (especially this winter) is not conducive to training motivation. It has been consistently -20 degrees since January and won't give up. When I woke up on the 8th of April it was snowing. Thank god I get to go to Florida to get in some warm weather training and a 70.3 Ironman race to top it all off.

My trip starts on Tuesday April 8th and I get to stay in sunny, hot, wonderful, relaxing Florida until the 15th. The best house-mate ever dropped me off at the Hamilton International Airport. I didn't need to be 2 hours early I realized once I arrived. The check-in was 5 minutes and you could throw a rock to the terminal gate. I literally sat at the gate for 1 hour 55 minutes, and then the plane was delayed an extra 20. No matter, my bike only cost me $21.00 to get on the plane, significantly better than Southwest was 3 weeks earlier at $75 US. I have a new found love and that is Westjet. The flight was great, I slept most of the way and we landed without a problem. The usual customs and bag claim was slow but no issues there either.

Rental cars...I don't know what to say. Sometimes you just have to say "fuck-it" and suck it up. I have never rented before and assumed that I had already paid for the rental car when I had purchased the rental agreement before I left Canada. no, no, no, no. This simply covers the cost of literally "renting" the car only. It doesn't include insurance (which is insane) and taxes (equally insane). On top of the $175 I had already paid, to get the car I had to pay another $333 US to the least enthusiastic spanish-speaking man I have ever met. On top of this he asked if I would like to upgrade to a convertible. I literally laughed at him, probably not necessary but I thought that was kind of ridiculous considering my reaction to these new costs. Anyway, I got my Ford Focus, shoved my bike and hockey bag in the back and set the proverbial sail for Haines City. Just blare some music and everything will be OK.

We just need the deed to your house and your kidneys and you can be on your way.
So...I arrive at my homestay just outside of Haines City in the small community of Cypress Wood. My hosts are two of the most kind people I've ever met, and their home is incredible. I'm staying in the guest house across the courtyard from the main house. They welcomed me with wine and snacks and we stayed up chatting about everything and anything. Excellent people.

My first day was kind of an adventure. After breakfast - which was eggs, greek yogurt, granola bark, and a double espresso - I drove to the race venue in Haines City to scope out the area. There was also a community pool at the race site where I planned to do my swim for the day. Of course, there's a detour and the only road I know is closed. So I drive for 10 minutes through rows and rows of orange trees until I get to somewhere in Haines. I knew I had to go west so I just took a left, then a right, then another left and bang - race site. I walked around to see the tents being set-up then walked into the community center. The pool apparently wasn't open yet and wasn't going to be open until Saturday. Not exactly something I wanted to wait for. They suggested I go to the Winter Haven pool instead, so I did. Another 30 minutes of driving and I was in Winter Haven.

I never really feel that lost, even though I have no maps or GPS, because if I ever can't find my way I just keep driving until I find a McDonald's. There's always a McDonald's. And they all have free-WiFi. Sure enough, after enough driving where I felt I might be getting lost, I pulled into a McDicks. This was no ordinary McDicks. First thing I notice is the clear-top Yamaha grand piano sitting in the lobby, just waiting to be played. I walk passed resisting the urge to play something and order a small coffee while I connect to the WiFi. When I went to pay, the woman working told me it was free. She handed me my coffee and I walked to the bench. If anyone saw me, it would have been obvious I was trying to figure out if I was dreaming. What McDonald's has a grand piano just sitting in it. Turns out, the pool I was looking for was one block further so I headed over and parked.

Roudy Pool in Winter Haven. If this is winter, sign me up.

Last time I went to swim, it was $15 per swim or $55 for the week at the National Training Center in Clermont. This was different. Long Course pool with 10 lanes, open swim from 11am to 5pm...$2. Jackpot. The only catch was the lack of lane ropes, i.e. there were none. But that didn't matter, I was the only one in the pool, and there aren't any lane ropes in a triathlon anyway. I finished my swim in the sun (outdoor swimming is just the best thing ever), grabbed some groceries, and went back "home".

Next was a quick 1-hour run to loosen up the legs and then the rest of the day off. I look forward to dinner tonight, which is going to be fresh grouper. First day all went according to plan, lets hope the rest of the week can stay the same.

Brain Training

I'm not one to believe that there is a single key to success or special recipe for peak performance, but I've always believed that what goes on inside your head is the most important part of your game. Everything you do, swimming, biking, running, breathing, emotion, attitude, stress, etc. is controlled by your brain. Therefore to train your brain is to train everything. Throughout my university athletics career I have been very interested in sport psychology, specifically motivation. I am fascinated by the best. What makes them click, why are they consistently better than the rest, how do I get to their level? From book to book and interview to interview, the story seemed to be the same - hard work wins in the end. But if all of these professional athletes are working the same, wanting to win the same, and are physiologically the same, why isn't everyone winning equally?

I wasn't until I read a book called "Iron War" by Matt Fitzgerald that I started to see an answer that I accepted. The book is about the legendary 1989 Ironman World Championship race between Dave Scott and Mark Allen. I had heard a lot about this race and watched NBC's broadcast of the event, but I never realized what was actually happening on that day as explained by Fitzgerald. The chapter that stuck with me is called Iron Will, and I have read it many times over. In this chapter, a new brain centered model for performance is introduced to explain why these two athletes were so dominant over the rest, and why this race in particular is so significant in the history of endurance sport.

The theory has always been that an athlete's performance will decrease with fatigue due to the consumption of muscle glycogen and build-up of lactic acid. Physiologically, the muscle runs out of energy to burn so it can no longer perform the desired task, whether that be swimming, biking, or running. This theory, however has a few flaws. One study had cyclists perform an endurance test where they were asked to pedal at a threshold power for as long as they could. The cyclists were able to maintain this for an average of 12 minutes before they failed to hold their threshold power and claimed to be completely unable to pedal that hard anymore. Immediately after they failed, they were asked to pedal as hard as they could for 5 seconds. EVERY cyclist was able to output 2-3 times their threshold power for that 5 seconds, even though they had just made the claim that they couldn't possibly pedal at threshold any longer. The study explains this as involuntary quitting, not due to low muscle glycogen (their muscles still had plenty), but because their brains simply told them to stop.

This completely changed how I thought about racing and training. The theory is that when the body is under physical exertion, the body does things such as produce lactate, produce more CO2 and so on. Your brain "reads" your blood chemistry to understand what is happening in the body, and it is very good at trying to prevent you from hurting yourself through overexertion. What the brain does is give you sensations of pain to try to convince you to quit or give up or slow down. The theory behind brain training is understanding this and learning to push your pain tolerance limits. The physiological side is important too, however. The more fit your body becomes, the less pain you perceive for the same amount of exertion.

Learning to train both systems and understanding how to manage the sensations during racing and training has opened new doors in my athletic performance. In the last season I dropped 3 minutes in my 10K run off the bike and dropped an additional 2 minutes in my 1500m swim. I highly recommend giving this book a read if you want to improve your training, and want to read a great story.

Dave Scott and Mark Allen in the 1989 Iron War, Ironman World Championship - Hawaii

Friday, 28 June 2013

Winter Training

Winter training has to be one of the best times to improve on a weakness. Firstly, there are few distractions from races so you can really focus on one or two aspects of your training and let the others slack without any severe consequences. Secondly, technique drills and speed work can be a huge focus without having to worry about getting in huge miles. Lastly, this is a great time to nurse any injuries and build a good base / increase flexibility to prevent any injuries in the upcoming spring.

My focus over the winter was to improve on my running and swimming. Many athletes will go on and on about the "best" way to get faster, and 10 simple steps to a best 10K or whatever. The first step is to just do it. Make a schedule of when you are going to train, and follow it. It's very easy in the winter to let cold weather or other distractions keep you from training, but in my opinion 50% of training is just showing up.

The the varsity swim program at UW took care of my swimming for the winter. Running was a little more difficult as I didn't have a coach to give me daily workouts. I started where anyone would start, by just doing what I know has worked in the past and repeating old workouts. From September to January, I ran 4-5 times per week which included 2 quality speed runs, one or two easy long runs, and one longer tempo run. The length of each session was usually dictated by how I felt and how cold it was. Luckily I was able to run my quality sessions at an indoor track.

In January I was introduced to Sean Delanghe's Health & Performance running group. Running alone for the last few months made me forget how beneficial it is having someone to run with. My fall training had been a great start, but it wasn't until I joined H&P that I started to really see measurable improvements. I still wasn't getting in the long 1-2 hour runs, but my short distance speed got faster and faster.

March is always a good time to measure your winter training improvements. I've raced the Chilli Half Marathon in Burlington 3 years in a row now and I find it a perfect venue for an early spring fitness test. I knew I had a lot of speed in my legs, but the distance was something that I hadn't been putting in. My longest run at this point had been 12K. I opened with a 38:50 10K (second best time ever) and felt really good for the first hour. By 16K I really felt myself tiring and by 20K it was all I had left in me to keep running. I improved on my 1/2 marathon best by 6 minutes posting a 1:21 and finishing 3rd in my age group.

I knew my training was working, and I knew I could go faster, but I hadn't yet completed what I believe to be the most beneficial training I have ever done.