Friday, July 25, 2014

Back in the Game

Hey - O!  It's FRIDAY!  Finally!  These last couple of days have seemed to drag on, even though I've had things to do.  I hate it when it that happens.  But no matter, the weekend is here and it's time to get back in the game.  What game you may ask?  The racing game.  This Sunday I'm racing Bala Falls again.  It's been 5 weeks since Luxembourg 70.3 - I can't believe that!  I'm finally feeling recovered, which took longer than I expected, probably due to all the walking, drinking & eating less than ideal things in the weeks that followed.  I don't care, it was TOTALLY worth it.  What has suffered most is my speed on the run.  Mainly because I haven't been running fast.  These last couple of weeks I've done some shorter hard workouts just to get my legs moving and things slowly seem to be coming around.  Maybe not to where I was last year when I did this race but close.  I had a solid run off the bike last night even with tired legs so I'm pretty pleased about that (and I thought about tucking my pelvis in the entire time..coincidence?  I think not!).  I busted out one of my old #Mingsanity bike workouts just for fun.  Ouch.

The best part about this weekend?  It's going to be G's first race this season.  I'm so excited for him.  He's been looking forward to this for a while.  He's been swimming, riding and running really really well.  It's like the 4 weeks he took off due to his crash never even happened.   Last weekend he was a maniac on the bike.  I couldn't even keep up with him.  I'm pretty sure there will be no chicking him this year. 

This weekend is really the start of G's racing season.  He's doing Bracebridge in a couple of weeks.  I'm going to volunteer because I'm hopefully going to be racing the Iron Girl event in Grimsby the next day.  More on that next week!  We're both doing Toronto Island at the end of August and then he's doing Lakeside, which is the last event of season in the Recharge With Milk Triathlon series.  I may or may not do that race.  It will depend on where I am in the points standing.  Right now I think I'm tied for first with another girl.  She raced with me at Bala last year and I beat her so fingers crossed that happens again if she's there this weekend. 

Who else is racing this weekend?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Recruit the Glutes! The Results of my Gait Analysis

Well, the verdict is in.  It's official.  I'm a mess.  This past Monday I had my gait assessment with Babs at Pivot.  Let me tell you, there is nothing quite as uncomfortable (yet oddly fascinating) as watching yourself run.  If you thought race photos were bad, imagine adding motion to it.  Yuck.  But I digress.

Seeing myself in motion confirmed a few things that I already know:    1) My right side is weaker than my left.  2) I hold my arms out just a bit too far from my body.  I didn't realize just how far until I saw the video.  

It also really opened my eyes to just how poor my form is.  Now, that being said, I know I run differently on a treadmill than I do outside.  On a treadmill I am almost always looking down at either the display or my feet because I just don't trust myself enough to run on a conveyor belt and watch TV.  Looking down causes all sorts of unflattering things to happen, such as shoulder roll.  When your shoulders roll, everything else drops with them. You want to talk about unflattering.....

No, I'm not pregnant.  And yes, I know I drink the occasional beer, but I don't have THAT much of a gut.  The whole shirt tucked into the shorts thing doesn't really help either.  Anyway, because my shoulders are rolled forward, the rest of my body is following suit.  My pelvis has tilted back, pushing my abdomen forward.   You can also see that my arms are bent at 66 degrees.  Ideally they should be at 90 degrees.  I know I have a physically strong core but it is functionally weak because apparently I don't engage it when I run.  In order to do this, I need to focus on tucking my pelvis in when I run.   Normally I turn my brain off when I run but now I'm going to have to actually think about doing this until it becomes just what my body does.

I have tight hamstrings and hip flexors (along with other things I'm sure) so my range of motion is reduced.  My left hip also seems to be "locked".  It's very apparent in the video and you can also see it when I walk.  Heck, I can FEEL it when I walk.  I can't seem to fully extend my left leg.  This is going to require diligent stretching on my part.  As well as some quality time on the tennis ball and maybe a few elbows in the glute from my RMT.

You can also see that I am over striding.  Ideally you're landing with your legs not so far out in front of your body.  Essentially I'm slowing myself down by running like that.  Not to mention the jarring impact it has on my legs.  The "ideal" running gait looks something like this.  Notice the placement of the runners feet in relation to their shin.  They are driving forward with their knees, using their foot strike to help propel them forward vs. slow them down.

 Look at them and then look at what I'm doing....

There has been a ton of debate over the last several years about heel striking.  Is it bad, is it good, does it even matter?  After trying to change my foot strike and ending up injured, I've come to the conclusion that my feet are going to do whatever they're going to do.  There are things that I can work on to help my body move more efficiently but changing the way my feet land isn't one of them.

I also pronate.  Not a really bad thing either - it is natural to have some pronation, however, mine is excessive because of the way I toe out.  I do wear orthotics and I am wearing them in these shoes, however, these shoes are a less supportive neutral shoe I use for shorter distance racing.  For longer distance racing I use something that is still neutral but offers more cushioning and a bit more support.  I want the orthotics to do the work, not the shoe.  We did talk about orthotics and I may need a new pair but that wasn't the focus of this assessment.

The most interesting part of the analysis for me was what my hips are doing.  I know that my right side tends to drop or collapse easier than my left side (as evidenced in 99.9% of my race photos).  However BOTH sides are problematic when viewed from the back.  I have something Babs referred to as Trendelenburg gait.  In a nutshell, this means that my hip abductor muscles (gluteus medius and gluteus minimus) are weak.

Yes folks, I have a lazy ass.  Because those muscles are not working properly, I am compensating elsewhere, mainly in my quads as it turns out.  This has led to incredibly tight quad muscles and IT bands, which in turn has led to knee pain.  Everything is so tight, it's putting stress on the joints and the tendons around it and everything becomes inflamed.  At least that's how I understand it.  So, ice and the occasional anti-inflammatory have become my best buds. 

Check out that hip drop! 
There are also some things I need to work on with my upper body.  Apparently I raise my shoulders while I run.  I know I do this on the treadmill for sure and I do it when I start to fatigue.  Babs said that most of that is due to my arm position.  I need to relax my arms a bit more when I run.  When I do this I will relax my shoulders.  My arms should be closer to waist level. I always wondered why my traps were sore after some of my longer runs.  Now I know.   I also have a lot of upper body movement when I run.  My torso twists and my arms cross my chest.  This is also very inefficient.  Take a look at the picture of all the "pros".  Their arms don't cross their chests.  They move back and forth from their shoulders, essentially helping their forward motion.  

You can also see that I have a very narrow base to my gait.  Which means that it doesn't take much for me to cross my foot slightly in front of me when I'm running.  I've even managed to kick my left heel multiple times during a run.  My right side seems to be more of the culprit with this than my left which is not surprising given that it seems to be my weaker side.  Ironic given that I'm right handed.

I know this all sounds horrible but, it is pretty much all fixable with a bit of work.  I have to be diligent about doing my glute strengthening exercises and I have to be doubly diligent about stretching and foam rolling.   I've even started stretching on days that I'm NOT working out.   The glute strengthening exercises are going to have become part of my regular routine.  Period. 

The plan of action right now is to do my exercises and continue my stretching routine for the next 3-4 weeks and then go back to see Babs again for a re-assessment.  If I'm still as sloppy as this, then we'll have to figure out another plan of action.  I'm scheduled to go back on August 25th, which is technically 5 weeks but that's the best I could do with my schedule. 

For anyone interested in getting this done, I highly recommend it.  Babs did an initial assessment of my feet and my ankle position as well as my orthotics.  He also measured my legs to see if there was any leg length discrepancy (there's a small one but nothing I need to be concerned about).  Afterwards, he took me through the video and explained everything that was going on.  He then did some tests with me to confirm that my glutes weren't firing.  My quads are so dominant, I had a hard time shutting them off during the test and when I did, all I could feel was the burning of my incredibly weak gluteus medius trying to work.  So very sad.

Had I thought about it, I would have actually taken notes because there is an additional charge for the video and still images with explanations.  If you're currently working with a physiotherapist or chiropractor then having these things would help immensely in your treatment plan because they'll be able to see what's happening in conjunction with your complaints about what's hurting.   I'm not sure if the initial $125 cost is covered by extended healthcare plans, but I don't think so (I haven't tried submitting my receipt yet, ha ha).  I know that the additional costs won't be.  The additional costs were as follows:

Gait Video only (no descriptions or markings) $35
Still images of gait with descriptions & markings = $55
Gait Video with descriptions & markings = $85

I'm guessing I've been running like this for a while.  Doing as much racing as I did last year, it's no wonder everything started to fall apart the minute I started building up my mileage again this year.  What amazes me is the fact that I was able to run relatively fast running as inefficiently as this.  I can only imagine how much faster I could potentially be if I actually manage to recruit my glutes!

Have you ever had a gait analysis done?  Did it help you improve your running form?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tri Talk Tuesday: Support Crew

It's Tuesday so it's time for another edition of Tri Talk Tuesday.  I'm linking up with 2 of the 3 tri ladies today (Courtney & Cynthia) as The Cupcake Triathlete (Miranda) is off to Lake Placid to cheer folks that are doing Ironman Lake Placid.   Which ties in perfectly with this week's topic:  Race Support crew.

I've been racing so long it's no surprise that over the years my support crew has changed.  My original group of "Tri-Friends" and training partners have had kids so it's not easy for them to get to races anymore.  Family has gotten older and a little less willing to drive crazy distances to cheer me on.  That and I race so darn much these days, well, it's hard to keep up.  That being said, we've had friends and family come out for our big events or races that might be close to home.  When I did my first Ironman in 2006, my entire family and G's entire family made the trip out to Lake Placid to cheer us on.  Not only that, several of our friends also made the drive to cheer us on.  It really was one of the best days of my life, other than my wedding day.  Last year our families came out to Belwood to cheer G and I on at a sprint race because it was close to my parent's home and we all went over for a BBQ after.  My folks got to see me on the podium so they were pretty proud.

The entire Kennedy / Rodrigues Fam Jam at Lake Placid 2006

Most of the Original Tri Gang, 2007
 These days my support comes in slightly different forms.  I have a new group of "Tri friends" (most of which are younger than me, ha ha) that I often race with and we're always cheering each other on either in person or virtually.  There's also the amazing folks in my run group, many of which are also triathletes.  My original "Tri friends" are still really supportive in that they always either call or send me text messages wishing me luck or congratulating me.  Back in 2006 when I did my first Ironman, Facebook and Twitter were in their infancy and I wasn't on either of them.  Instagram didn't even exist.  Now that we are in the age of Social Media, I've found that I am getting support from people all over the world.  The interwebz has made this world a much smaller place and has allowed us to connect with people we may have never have had the opportunity to connect with if things like Instagram and twitter didn't exist. Some of the messages I've gotten from people I've never met have really touched my heart. 

Jordan & Heather, part of the new Tri Gang
The triathletes from my run group. 
I'm also a part of an amazing team of athletes at Real Deal Racing.  The guys that run the show as well as my teammates are always so supportive.  As Mike likes to say, Team work makes the dream work.  So. Freaking. True.

And of course, there is G.  I cannot even being to tell you how lucky I am to have a partner that shares the same passion I do.  He is at almost every single running race I do and he's always at every tri because he's usually racing.  Yup, I count my blessings every. single. day.   Do I miss him when he's not there?  Of course.  Those are the days that I just have to dig a little deeper to get to the finish line and I'm ok with that. 

G and I on our cycling vacation in Lake Placid last year.  Yes, we're wearing matching caps from our favourite race series.

Who do you owe a big THANK YOU to for their support?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Breaking it Down

So on Monday I got the all clear from Peter, my chiro.  By all clear, I mean that I don't need to go back to see him again unless things start to flare up again.  He said my hip is a lot better and my IT bands were in really good shape.  I can thank my massage therapist for that.  He KILLED me last Thursday.  But it was exactly what I needed.

So with all of this good stuff, you'd think that my knees would have stopped hurting right?

They haven't.  I can't even begin to tell you how frustrating this is.  I went for a run on Tuesday night with my run club and the first 2-3 minutes of my run was pretty darn uncomfortable.  Once I got going, I was much better.  I don't have any knee pain going up or down stairs anymore so that's a plus.  I'm usually ok on the bike depending on the intensity of the ride.  It's the run that's the bigger issue and it just seems to be those first few steps when I'm running.  I'm beginning to think I'm doing something weird with my feet / legs because I'm anticipating the pain. 

I'm managing things with ice and lots of foam rolling and stretching.  I even took an Aleve last night, which I never do.  Anti-inflammatories do not sit well with me.  I find they knock me sideways and upset my stomach a bit so I try not to take them.  Obviously I can't continue doing this for the rest of my athletic career so steps need to be taken.

There are clearly issues happening when I run, and potentially when I'm lifting as well as riding.  My chiro says it's weak glutes and he's given me exercises to do.  That could very well be the case.  It could also be that my glutes aren't firing at all.  So, on Monday I'm heading to Pivot to see Babs Aiyede for a gait analysis.   I have to bring a few pairs of shoes (not my entire collection, haha) and wear snug fitting clothing.  No he's not a perv.  He has to be able to see what my upper body, hips AND legs are doing when I'm running.   So we're going to break down my running gait and see what's going on.  From this, I think he should be able to determine if in fact, I have a lazy ass.

In the meantime, I'm going to continue doing what I love to do: swim, bike, run.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What Next?

Now that #Mingsanity is over, so many people have asked me "what's next".  That's a good question.  Normally I have a solid racing schedule right through until late fall.  This year, I only have two more races officially on my schedule (meaning I've registered for them):  Bala Falls and Toronto Island.  I normally run a fall half and had wanted to do that this year but given the fact that my knees and hip are still bothering me, I don't think it's wise for me to register for anything until I have everything sorted out.   My run club is organizing a trip to Niagara Falls to do the Niagara Falls International Marathon / Half Marathon and I'd LOVE to do that but until I can run without pain, I don't want to commit to anything.

G thinks I'm going to actually have to take some time off.  Not just a week or two.  He's thinking anywhere between 3-6 weeks.   I hate to admit it, but I think he might be right.  I'm not ready to do that just yet so I'm going to continue with A.R.T, doing my PT exercises, getting back into the gym to rebuild my strength and doing my best to get to yoga on a semi regular basis.   That should help me manage the pain for the next two months.   If it's still lingering at the end of my triathlon season, then I will take some time off. 

The other thing I'm going to do is get a gait analysis done.  There are obviously some weird things happening when I'm running so I'd like to find out what's wrong and how to fix it. 

All of that being said, it's hard for me to sit still so of course, I was back at it this past week.  Albeit at a much lower volume.  I got back into the gym as well which I have missed SO MUCH.  I can't believe how much strength I've lost.  I know it will come back quickly once I get back into things.  

This is how my week panned out.

Monday: 2000m swim
Tuesday:  1 hour strength training + PT work, 6.9km run
Wednesday:  2000m swim
Thursday:  1 hour strength training & PT work
Friday:  OFF
Saturday:  1500m open water swim, 63.44km bike.
Sunday:  12 km run

Total time: 7h 52 minutes.  Hmmm...guess that's still kind of a lot.  I didn't feel like it though.  This week, I'll get back on the bike during the week as well since I've got a race coming up in a couple of weeks.  I'm also going to rejoin my run group on Tuesdays.  We'll see how my body responds to that. 

Saturday was too nice a day to NOT be out enjoying it.  Sunday morning was gross but then the rain stopped and I jumped at the chance to get out in the sun.  It was hot and humid but I ran slowly to keep my heart rate down and actually enjoyed myself.   I'm looking forward to getting out again next Sunday!

How was your week of workouts?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Thinking Out Loud: Random European Observations

I was planning on writing a post about some of my favourite things from our trip but I figured that might get a little long and boring (my race reports are bad enough, I'm sure).   There were also many things in European culture that I found to be interesting in comparison to Canadian culture....again could be another looong post.  So I decided to lump it all together in a Thinking Out Loud post.  Two birds, one perfectly aimed stone.  

It's been ages since I've linked up with Amanda so I'm looking forward to joining in the fun again!

I'm going to start with my favourites.

1.  Dinner & wine in Luxembourg.  I had one of the best meals of my life at Le Sud in Luxembourg.  This was a pleasant surprise as we didn't have high expectations for the food there.  We also had a fantastic bottle of Cabernet Blanc, which neither of us had had before.  So good.  The meal was amazing and I wished I snapped some pics but I didn't want to be "that girl" sitting in a fancy restaurant taking pictures of her food.  But I did manage to snap a rather lame shot of the room.  It's crooked because I took it on the sly.

2.  Coffee in italy.  D'uh.  The Italians know their stuff.  They do coffee right.  I didn't have ONE bad cup while I was there.  So. Darn.  Good. 

3.  Beer in France.  Say WHAT?  Yes, you read that right my friends.  I had two of the best beers I've had in a LONG time in France.  THAT was certainly something I didn't expect. 

Grimbergen Cuvee Blanche

Pelforth Radler


4.   Once we arrived in Italy, it became very apparent that speed limits, lanes and parking spots were all just "suggestions".  People pretty much did whatever they wanted to do on the road.  It was a little scary at times but for the most part, people get out of the way and let the crazies go by. 

5.  That brings me to my next point.  Other than the Italians on the highway, people know how to drive in Europe. NOBODY sits in the passing lane doing the speed limit.  They all drive in the middle or right lane and use the left lane for passing ONLY.  Once they've passed you, they move over.  It's amazing how well traffic actually flows when you drive like that. 

6.  Speed limits:  130 kph for the most part.  110 kph if it's raining.  And people don't drive like idiots.  Canada needs to get with the program.  Stretches of the autobahn have NO speed limit.  You can go as fast as you're comfortable with.  I think that helped cut our driving time down a fair bit.  G took our rockin' Renault Scenic minivan up to almost 170kph.  Some guy in a VW GTI blew by us, probably going about 220.  The last time we were in Europe on the autobahn we were in a Golf and G got it up to 200 kph, with me freaking out in the passenger seat. 

That says 167 kph. 
 7.  Cycling is ingrained in the culture.  It's an acceptable a mode of transportation that is encouraged with plenty of bike lanes and beautiful roads.  It's a beloved past time.  It's a way of life.  People embrace the bike.  From kids to old ladies, it doesn't matter.  We saw a woman who had to be about 70 out on her bike with a basket it on it, heading off to the grocery store. 

8.  Speaking of cycling, let me just talk about the roads for a minute.  OMG.  Not a pothole to be found anywhere.  I can only attribute that to the fact that they probably don't get the same dramatic difference it temperatures that we do here.  Nor do they get as much snow.  The roads in Luxembourg were hands down the nicest roads I've ridden on.  France wasn't too bad either.  I could have done without the tar seal strips on the descent from the top of Alp d'Huez though. 

9.  I've also come to the conclusion that the Europeans know what it means to socialize.  They are always outside in groups.  Even when we were in Paris in December, people were sitting on patios drinking and talking.  And when I say socialize, I mean actually sitting down and having a conversation.  I hardly saw anyone on their smartphones.  I also noticed that there were a lot of families that would go out together.  Whether it be for dinner or after dinner.  Instead of sitting around inside, watching TV, they'd go out for a walk to get some gelato or an evening coffee or drink and sit they'd sit around and talk.  I think that's why their TV channels suck.  Nobody's watching because they're all outside being social.   Imagine that!  Although I think I'd probably be doing the same if there was no such thing as windchill and 4 feet of snow. 

10.  A little confession:  when we got back, it took me a couple of days to stop reaching to either the top of the toilet or the wall to flush it, ha ha. 

Your turn!  Tell me something random!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tri Talk Tuesday: Food, Glorious FOOD!

Now that things are somewhat back to normal, I can get back to blogging a little more regularly, yay!  That also means that I'm back to eating the way I normally do....which ironically is the topic of todays Tri Talk Tuesday.  I'm linking up with Courtney at the Tri Girl Chronicles, Miranda at The Cupcake Triathlete and Cynthia at You Signed up For What? to talk about one of my favourite things:  FOOD.

 While we were away in Europe, I tried to eat as normally as possible during the week leading up to the race.  That mean no real crappy food (i.e fried or refined or sugary).  We were staying in an apartment so we had the option to make our own meals.  We usually made breakfast and lunch and then ate out for dinner which was a nice compromise.  I indulged a wee bit here and there with the occasional dessert and I definitely didn't shy away from alcohol, although I didn't have any the day before the race.  The two weeks after the race all bets were off.  I ate more pizza, croissants and gelato than I care to admit...but I enjoyed every bit of it. 

I don't follow any really strict dietary rules, other than "don't eat crap".  I try to make a point of eating whole foods, nothing prepackaged.   I find the less crap I eat, the better I feel and perform.  Go figure.  That being said, I do enjoy a really good burger or pizza on occasion.  And of course a frosty beverage to wash it all down because, really, it's all about balance.  And I have a bit of a chocolate problem...

If you follow me on instagram, you'll see that I often post food pics.  I love to eat.   I also happen to love healthy food and I really enjoy cooking.  I like variety in my diet.  I can't eat the same thing day in and day out.  I am a big fan of salads but they need to have protein in them.  So you'll usually see a can of tuna or a chicken breast or if I'm in a vegan kind of mood, some tempeh mixed in.  

I try to do some food prep on Sundays but it was difficult when I was training for my 70.3.  I was usually pretty wiped out by Sunday afternoon so I wouldn't do much.  Now that I'm back home and won't be dealing with that crazy training volume, I should be able to prep a bit more.  A few of my staples are usually turkey burgers, lamb meatballs, quinoa and a big veggie frittata.  

A typical day of eats usually looks like this:

Breakfast - either a piece of fritatta, or a chia pudding (peanut butter / chocolate is my fave).  Pancakes on weekends! 

Post workout I usually have a smoothie with protein powder and some whole grain toast or an english muffin with some kind of nut butter or avocado spread on it + an americano with cream and sugar.  On days where I've done a really intense workout, I will usually have steel cut oats & fruit along with my smoothie.

Lunch will usually be a protein and a huge pile of veggies or salad.  Sometimes a bit of carbs, like sweet potatoes or black beans.  I find if I have too many carbs at lunch, I feel sluggish and lethargic by mid afternoon so I tend to shy away from them.

Mid afternoon I usually have a snack.  Sometimes its greek yogurt and fruit, or a chia pudding or some nuts and veggies.  In a pinch, I'll have a Lara Bar (love them!)

Dinner will usually be protein & veggies.  If I've done an intense workout, I may have a big bowl of pasta or a homemade pizza. I'm also a big fan of breakfast for dinner so sometimes I have pancakes.

And of course there's usually dessert.  Sometimes its a couple of squares of dark chocolate.  Other times its fruit or a mug cake.  Or, my favourite, chocolate cherry "Ice cream"

When I'm busy and we're shooting, my normal eats go right out the window.  I usually over indulge in all the less than ideal things no matter how hard I try to be "good".  And I generally pay for it by the end of the day.  I always end up dragging my butt and feeling like a sack of hammers.  But that's ok, I usually bounce back fairly quickly. 

I've learned over the years that what you put in to your body has a direct result on what you can get out of your body.  I didn't always eat this way.  I changed my diet almost 4 years ago and lost over 20lbs, most of which I've kept off.  I can honestly say that eating the way I do has helped me perform better.  It's gotten me lighter, it's kept me healthier (I don't often get sick whereas I used to get at least 2 colds every winter) and it's given me an appreciation for what REAL, good for you food tastes like.  
What are your go to healthy meals?

What's your favourite indulgence?  I have a few:  burgers, french fries, pizza, ice cream.   

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Climb: Alp d'Huez

I can't believe that our little adventure is over.  It seems like ages ago already.   Back to reality.  I will probably do a post later on in the week recapping some of the highlights of the trip as well as some pointers when traveling to destination races. 

When we were planning our trip, our main goal was to get to Italy as I'd never been there before.  Having to go to Luxembourg first meant that we were either flying into Paris or Frankfurt and driving from there.  Cost and flight availability had us going in and out of Paris, which wasn't a bad thing.  We figured that if we had to drive back into Paris that we might as well explore a bit more of France after spending time in Italy.  I honestly could have stayed in Italy longer it was so beautiful.  But had we done that, we would have missed out on the stunning scenery of the French Riviera and the French alps.  Once we realized that our route back to Paris would take us close to the French alps we decided that we should spend a couple of days there and tackle one of the Tour Climbs.  Thankfully it was closer to the end of our trip so I would be recovered from the race.  We decided on doing Alp d'Huez.  It wasn't a long climb but it was definitely challenging. 21 switchbacks in roughly 14km and over 1000m of climbing.  There was no way I was going to do it on my tri bike so we rented these sweet Pinarello Dogma's.  Full carbon and super light. 

We had looked at trying to stay in Alp d'Huez or Le Bourg D'Oisans but every single place was booked.  We had no idea what was happening but we assumed it was some kind of cycling race.  So we ended up in Grenoble, which was about a 50 minute drive away.  When we left Nice to head to Grenoble, G figured that we should go and scope out the bike store in Bourg D'Oisans first and then make our way to Grenoble.  We had roughly a 5 hour drive from Nice to Bourg, most of it on the highway.  French highways are the bomb by the way,there are rest stops, restaurants and gas stations every 15-20km so you don't need to worry about emergency pit stops.  And the scenery was pretty darn nice too given it was a major highway. It's not every day that you drive by old ruins and huge churches as you zoom along the highway.

As we got into the mountains, we knew we were heading into cycling territory as the roads were becoming populated with cyclists.  There were tons of people on the road. We even saw vans with bike racks in them.  We figured they were tour groups of some sort.  The closer we got to Bourg, the more cyclists we saw.  There was even a bike lane painted on the two lane highway.  We were in cycling Nirvana. 

We rolled into Bourg and stopped at a little restaurant to grab a bite to eat.  They even had a "cyclist's menu".  There were tons of people whizzing through town on bikes, along with guys in spandex with shaved legs sitting eating bowls of pasta and drinking espresso.  Go was so excited he could barely contain himself.  We finished our meal and went into the bike shop.  OMG it was JAMMED.  We spent a fair bit of time looking at clothes.  There were a few really nice pieces of kit that I liked but just couldn't justify the $$ on.  I had spent a fair bit of money in Italy and a ton of money at the race expo so I felt the need to restrain myself.  Plus I didn't really NEED anything.  I'm so bloody practical, haha. 

We chatted with the sales woman, confirmed our rental and dropped off our pedals.  I had been concerned about gearing but G checked the bikes out and told me I didn't have to worry about a thing.  The bike had a triple crank set on it, which meant that I'd be able to spin my legs up the mountain without killing myself too much.  Sweet, give me all the granny gears!  We made arrangements to be back for 9:00 am the next day and then headed on to Grenoble. 

The next day we packed up our gear and drove in to Bourg.  We totally lucked out with the forecast,it was supposed to to be sunny and really hot. The day before had been overcast and cool.  We got to the bike shop and the mechanic pulled the bikes out for us and had us take them for a spin.  Mine seemed to be ok but I couldn't really tell.  It was weird to be riding a road bike again, I'm so used to riding my tri bike.  The mechanic said we should go and do a loop of the town to get a warm up in because the climb was only about 1km away.  So we took a spin along this little path around the outskirts of Bourg.  During the ride I realized that my saddle wasn't in the right position. I felt like it was too far back and it wasn't comfortable. So we made o ur way back to the bike shop and and them move my saddle frown a bit.  I got on and started riding.  Much better.  Now I really had a feel for the bike.
Not pictured - the TRIPLE crank set

We followed the stream of cyclists out of town to a roundabout and took the first exit which turned out to be incorrect but a quick u turn rectified that and soon we were heading towards the alp.  There was a line painted across the road that signified where the climb started. It was also where they had the timing chip start timing your climb.  When you rent bikes from this shop, they give you a chip to time your climb.  Apparently this is something they do for all the major Tour climbs.  You get a little chip that you put in your jersey and it starts when you cross the line at the base of the climb and then stops when you cross the line at the top of the climb. The bike shop will then print out a copy of your time when you're back.

I knew the climb was going to be long.  People told me that the first 3-4km was the hardest part.  The grade is steeper here so you're struggling to get into a rhythm.  They weren't kidding.  As soon as the road started to go up my heart rate spiked.  I immediately got into my granny gears and started spinning my legs.  I wanted to take it easy because I knew it was going to be a long way up.  The road was much wider than I had anticipated.  Most of the mountain roads we had been on were insanely narrow.  This was a pleasant surprise. There was plenty of room to pass other cyclists and cars still had a good amount of room to get by.  I tried to keep my breath in check and just focus on the road in front of me.  I didn't want to look up because I knew I had a long way to go and seeing how far would have messed with my head.  So I looked at the road in front of me.  I'd glance up every so often to look out over the guard rail and check the view. 

G was in front of me but seemed to be struggling a bit so I passed him.  I looked down at the speedometer on my bike.  I was chugging along at 10kph.  Sometimes it dropped down to 9, and at one point it got as low as 8 kph.  Those first few kms were a slog, no doubt about it.  What makes the climb difficult from a mental perspective is the fact that all the switchbacks are numbered, starting at 21 and counting down until you cross the top.  And it's not like the switchbacks are close together either.  Fun fact:  each switchback is named after a winner from this stage.  I think at this point each turn has two names on it, although I'm pretty sure Lance Armstrong's has been removed.  I didn't think to check as I was too busy grinding my way up the mountain. 

Once I got through the first few turns, it started to feel a bit easier.  I started seeing 11 kph on and off on my speedometer.  Sometimes I'd get as high as 14 kph in the turns.  Woohoo!  I never got out of my granny gear either, no matter how fast my legs were spinning.  My legs were feeling ok and I wanted to keep it that way.  I chugged along.  I got to a turn, looked around and didn't see G anywhere so I figured I'd better stop.  There were some turns that had a wide shoulder and somewhat flat shoulder that you could pull over and stop on so the next one I came to, I did just that.  I was probably about 1/4 of the way up and I was hot and sweaty.  I made a point to drink something.  I looked back and saw G grinding his way up.  As he got closer, I got back on my bike and started moving.  But not before I snapped this.  It's foggy because I didn't even think to clean my camera lens off.  I didn't realize just how sweaty I was.

G caught up to me and I hopped back on the bike and started grinding away again.  I was loving the granny gears and the bike itself was amazingly nimble and light.  I actually caught and passed two guys.  They caught and passed me when I stopped again a few turns later.  Then I caught them again.  It was like playing leap frog.  I kept pushing on.  I realized once again that G was nowhere to be found so the next opportunity I had to stop, I did so.  It was at turn number 11.  We were just half way up.  Good God.  I thought about turning around right then and there.  I sat there, caught my breath and waited for G.  I didn't feel like I was breathing hard when I was riding but every time I stopped I was gasping for air.  I figured it was probably the altitude.   G caught up to me and we took a breather here for a while.  I had a GU and drank some more fluids.  My legs were just starting to feel a bit tired so I figured I needed a little something.  I'm not sure how long we sat here for, probably a couple of minutes.  G was in a bad position on the bike, he felt like he didn't have any power, thus his slow ascent.  Normally he's way ahead of me on hills, he's a really strong climber.   We hopped back on our bikes and motored on. 

The next few turns went by in a bit of a haze.  I was clearly only focused on the road in front of me because the next time I looked up at anything, I saw I was at turn number 6.  WOOHOO, only 5 left to go!  This definitely spurred me on.  I kept on rolling.  I came to a wide turn and there were a couple of older guys sitting there chilling out and a younger dude who was just getting back on his bike.  I chugged past him.  A few seconds later, he blew by me like I was standing still.  Amazing.

I started to look around a bit more.  I passed a nice little village.  I noticed that there were multiple bus stops on the way up but nothing on the way down.  I came across a photographer at turn 5 but he didn't get me because I was behind another guy.  I passed that dude and then at turn 3, there was another photographer who got me and then tried to hand me the card with the website info to order pics.  I laughed and said I wasn't taking my hand off the bars so he laughed and shoved the card in the back pocket of my jersey.  I was soooo close to the top, I couldn't wait to get off my bike.  The last little bit kicks up again in grade, ever so slightly.  Especially closer to the top.  The last little climb into the village seemed so much tougher.  I pushed it up that last bit and rolled into town.  I kept going until I saw the checkered line painted on the ground.  I figured that had to be where the timing chip stopped recording your time.  I crossed it and rolled the bike to a stop.  My legs were shaking a bit as I got off.  I leaned the bike up against a post and waited for G.  The town was FULL of cyclists all sitting on patios either eating or drinking coffee.

G finally rolled in and we made our way over to a patio for a coffee.  It was hot and sunny out and I easily could have spent the afternoon sitting there people watching.  We had our coffee and then checked out a few of the stores - all filled to the brim with cycling gear.  G bought an Alp d'Huez jersey.  We had seen people taking pics in front of an Alp d'Huez sign so we went and did that of course.

 Then it was time to head back down the mountain.  This is what I was dreading.  I asked G to stay with me.  He started moving and I followed suit, immediately grabbing the brakes and pumping them to keep me from going too fast.  I slowly made my way around the first corner and then stopped, my heart in my chest.  I was petrified.  I told G I didn't think I could do it so we sat there for a bit.  I got back on the bike, rolled around the next couple of turns and pulled into a little park.  I had a bit of a meltdown here and G was clearly frustrated with me.  So, I made the effort to go a little further but with all the cars and speedy cyclists whizzing by me, it was just too much for me to take.  I am not a good descender.  I don't mind going fast in a straight line downhill but add in turns and it makes me very uncomfortable.  This is something I clearly need to work on.  So I made it to this small little village that had a nice little viewing area that overlooked the descent.  I was nervous about being left there but I figured G was a good descender so he should be fine.  He headed down the mountain and I sat there and watched people whizz by.  It was a beautiful sunny day so I sat in the grass and soaked up the sun.  Roughly half an hour later, G rolled up in our rockin' Renault Scenic minivan and rescued me.

We made our way down the mountain and went back to the bike shop to return our bikes and timing chips.  The sales woman we had dealt with the day before downloaded the info from the chips and then says to me, Oh wow, you beat Gary?  I smiled and said Yup, and that was with 3 stops.  The chip time keeps going, even if you stop.  It took me 1 hour and 16 minutes to get up and it took G 1 hour and 20 minutes but to be fair, he stopped to adjust his saddle towards the end of the climb.  Even if I didn't make it down the mountain, it was still a pretty amazing experience.  It really goes to show you how incredible these tour guys are - they RACE up these mountains.  It's one thing to see it on TV but seeing it in real life....WOW.

Of course, I wore my Garmin.  I didn't use my Vectors so I don't have power data for the climb but, I've got everything else.  The route map is what kills me.  Look at the zig zags.

 It was an incredible experience, one that I'd love to do again once I get a bit more comfortable with descending, ha ha.

Friday, July 4, 2014

IM Luxembourg Post Race Ramblings

Anyone that's trained for any sort of endurance event knows the amount of dedication it takes to get to the start line. On race day it's all you...but getting to that point usually requires the support of small army and they all deserve a huge thank you! Its going to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech I'm sure but I feel like sometimes you can't say Thank You enough. So let's get down to it...

Firstly, I'd like to thank my coach, Ming, for pushing me and making me understand what hard work on the bike actually feels like. I have improved in leaps and bounds, not only on the bike but in my running off the bike. I didn't think that was even possible.

Next up, Mike Mandel and the rest of my Real Deal teammates. Mike has been instrumental in helping me get my head in the game. His support and words of wisdom helped calm me down and put me in the right mindset for my first race of the year. Teammates Barbie-Anne Hope, Graeme Rivers and Leanna Lee have also consistently been a source of virtual support as well. As Mike likes to say "Team work makes the dream work" and I couldn't agree more. We wouldn't be able to be a great team without great sponsors as well so a big thank you to all of them!

I know very few endurance athletes who can get through a training cycle without any sort of aches and pains. Scratch that, I don't know any. A key part of an athletes success also lies in the hands of their therapists. I've had so many little issues that could have turned into major issues if I didn't have a great team of therapists in my corner. My ART guy, Peter Lejkowski from Pivot has helped work on my knee and hip issues. Dr. Sarah Mickeler has helped get the knots out with her Graston work and my friend and RMT David Lamy has kept my legs and shoulders in excellent working order.

I also want to thank my friends who kept me company on my training rides when G got sidelined with this injury. David B, Heather and Jordan and David L, you guys all rock. A big thanks to David L for riding the Tour de Grand with me and suffering through a 13km run in the rain with me afterwards. One of the toughest yet most fun days I had this training cycle.

Of course all the folks I work with deserve a huge shout out as well. They always offer me so much encouragement and support. Most of them think I'm a bit nuts but they understand it makes me happy so I've always got their support.

And then there's G. What can I say....? After his crash, I didn't want to go ahead with the race but G wouldn't let me entertain any thoughts of not doing it. He knew that it was just my fears getting the better of me. I know how hard it's been for him to be the spectator these last three races, when he should have been out there with me. He's been a constant source of support and encouragement and he's talked me off the ledge more times than I care to admit. I'm sad that we didn't get to race together but I know that we'll plan another trip like this at some point down the road. G is hoping to do a 70.3 later on this year so I will happily play Sherpa and race photographer.

I've thought a lot about the race in the last week. While I wouldn't change any part of how it all played out, I know there is room for improvement. Now that I seem to have my swim issues somewhat figured out, I should be able to situate myself near the front and swim at the pace I know I'm capable of. I think if I wasn't such a head case in Luxembourg, I probably could have swam about 32 minutes. But, I wanted to put myself in a comfortable position so I stayed at the back. I think that was totally the right call for me. As for the bike, I really only spent 7 weeks seriously working on my cycling. Yes, I rode during my Boston training but it was just to build up endurance. I didn't do any of the really hard work until after Boston. The next time I decide to do a 70.3, there won't be a spring marathon involved, haha. I think if I spend more time doing hard work on the bike, I can only get better. The women that finished in front of me all rode sub 2:50 on the bike. The woman that won my AG rode a 2:35. That's an average of over 34kph. Insane. The crazy part? I beat her out of the water, haha. My position after the swim was the highest it was all day. I came out of the water 8th in my AG, dropped to 12th on the bike and then gained back two spots on the run. I'm beyond thrilled with my race results and even more excited about the potential for improvement.

I mentioned that one of my other goals at the beginning of the year was to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships. Both G and I would have gotten spots here. There ended up being two spots in my AG and they rolled down to 12th position and then they got put up for grabs to anyone in my AG. I opted not to take one because I am far too beat up to continue training at the level that I was.  I need to sort out all my lingering hip and knee issues.  The same roll down happened with G's AG. We were sitting with a bunch of guys from Belgium, 2 of which placed in their respective AG's and the one guy I was speaking with said it wasn't worth it to cross the ocean because it's only a 70.3! It's all about Ironman for those guys. So, we know moving forward that when the World Championships are back on Canadian soil, we may have to go back to Europe to get a spot, which, given how awesome this trip has been, wouldn't be a bad thing!
On that note, I'll leave you with some of my favourite snaps from the last couple of weeks.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mingsanity, The Final Chapter: IM Luxembourg 70.3 - The Run

I wrote most of this post in my head in the days following the race it's just taken me some time to get it down on virtual paper. Vacationing and blogging don't really mix well. Unless of course you're sitting on a beach in the French Riviera.....
I figured that once I got out onto the run,I was home free. This was going to be the easy part because I can run off the bike no problem. Boy oh boy was I ever wrong. Towards the end of the bike my stomach was feeling a little funny. Nothing major, just a little off. As soon as I got my shoes on, I bolted out of T2 like a bat out of hell. You had to run around the back of transition and then down a road that took you to the main road / bike path where you'd run three loops and then up a small side street into a courtyard where the finish line was. As soon as I came around the back of transition, I saw G standing at the top of that side street. I was so happy to see him. I smiled and waved. I didn't feel like I was running that fast but when I glanced down at my watch I saw 4:15's. I knew that wasn't going to be sustainable. My heart rate was also through the roof. I tried to slow down a bit to bring it down. No go. I hit that first km in 4:19. Oh boy.
I had hoped that by starting the race at 1:00pm that by the time I got out on the run,it wouldn't be so hot. Totally not the case. It was scorching. It was almost 5:00 pm and it felt like it was noon. There wasn't much shade on the run course either. There were some trees towards the back end but I figured I'd probably be running in the sun for the entire first loop as well as most of the second loop. I hoped they had a sponge station.
I cooked along for the first couple of km but by km three my stomach started to really bother me. It was cramping a bit and it just felt gross. I had grabbed 3 gels and brought then with me and I knew I should probably take one but it was the last thing I wanted. I hit the first aid station and took 2 cups of water, one to drink and one to dump down my chest. Then I saw the kids with the sponges and the hose. Oh yeah!!! I ran through the spray of the hose and grabbed two sponges. One I squeezed over my head and the other I shoved down the back of my tri top. That felt so much better. I felt like my energy was flagging a bit but I pushed on, despite the unsettled feeling in my stomach. I was passing a lot of guys and the occasional woman which kept me motivated to keep pushing. Running back towards transition was nicer as you actually had some shade but it was ever so slightly up hill, which was a bit of an energy suck. Once you closer to transition to what the race organizers called "The Iron Mile" the crowds got bigger and the noise level increased substantially. This part of the course was basically outdoor bars so pretty much all the spectators were drinking and cheering people on. At some points they were lining the road like in the Tour de France, it was crazy. It gave me the energy boost I needed to go and collect my first wristband. Because the run course was three loops, they gave you a different colour bracelet at the end of each loop so it was easy for race officials to see where you were at.
I got my first wristband and headed out onto the second loop. I was really starting to feel rough. The thought of having to get through this loop and one more was incredibly unappealing. I just wanted to walk. I thought about walking almost constantly for the next couple of km. I told myself I would walk through the aid station when I got there and that's exactly what I did. As soon as I rolled into the aid station I grabbed a water. I was dying. I felt totally gassed. I needed something but I really couldn't face a gel. Then I saw it. It was like a beacon calling to me. Rows and rows of it. Cups of flat Coke. I grabbed one and gulped it down. OMG. It was like food from the Gods. It was exactly what I needed. A few minutes later I was flying along the run course. I picked off a girl with the same coloured wristband as me. Yes!! Before I knew it I was at the turnaround. My game plan was now going to revolve around fueling with Coke. It didn't upset my stomach and it gave me the energy I clearly needed. Nothing like caffeine and sugar to give you the kick in your pants that you need!!
I got to the next aid station and had another cup of water and a Coke. I ran through the spray and grabbed another two sponges. I was soaking wet but at least I felt cool. The sun was still pretty strong on some parts of the run course. I shouldn't have been surprised given that it didn't really get dark until about 10:30 pm! I went through waves of feeling great and then feeling crappy. The sugar high would wear off and I'd start to suffer. I wished the aid stations were a little closer together. I went through the second loop in a bit of a haze. All I could think about was how much I wanted to stop. I was tired and I was starting to feel sore. Mentally I was checking out. I had to get my head back in the game or else I was going to start walking. I started to focus on people in front of me, trying to figure out who I could catch. I'd pick a person and will myself forward. I told myself the only time I'd allow myself to stop was at the aid station. There were only two on the course so that meant I could stop twice. That was going to have to be enough. Much like my Ironman marathons, my mantra became just make it to the next aid station. I got to the second aid station and came to a full stop. I grabbed a cup of water and two cups of coke. I walked over to the table with the oranges and had a slice. I walked over to the kids with the hose and had them spray me. I grabbed another sponge and tossed my old one. Then I went to the curb to stretch my hamstrings an ship which were both starting to hurt. I could have parked myself on the curb and taken a nice little break. I think I was probably here for at least a minute if not longer. Then a girl that I had passed earlier ran by as I was stretching and that was motivation for me to get my ass in gear and go.
As I ran towards the wristband check to get my third and final wristband, I started to pick up speed. I don't know if it was the crowd, or the thought that I only had another 7km to go. Less than 35 minutes at my current pace. I could suffer through 35 minutes. I had caught the girl that passed me and I was reeling in another that also had the same amount of wristbands that I had. I didn't feel like I was moving quickly but I guess I was. I was actually passing some guys. Which wasn't difficult given that 85% of the participants were men! It still made me feel good to actually pass people, especially on my last loop. I was coming up on the first aid station and stopped and walked through it, grabbing a coke, water and a sponge on my way through. I glanced at my Garmin. I had no idea what the time of day was, I could only guess. I had estimated that I'd finish around 6:15-6:30 depending on how my day went. I tried to scroll through my Garmin to see if it would give me an overall time but in my current state, anything more than scrolling through the screens was going to require more effort than I was capable of physically and mentally so I put it back to the original screen and kept going.
The timing on the run course seemed to be off as did the distance. I didn't realize that until the second loop. It could have been because I was running loops but the closer I got to finishing, the more obvious it became. My Garmin hit 19km and I was telling myself that I only had 2km left. Less than 10 minutes at my current pace. The next thing I knew, I was running through the IronMile and I could see the turn off to the finishing chute. I ran past the wristband crew and flashed my wrists and they pointed me to the finishing chute. I almost started crying right then and there. I was hurting so much. I made the turn down the side street and then took the turn into the finishing chute like a woman possessed. I was crying and laughing all at the same time. The closer I got to the finish line, the bigger my grin got. I saw G within meters of finishing and he caught my absolute favourite race picture ever. Even the official race pics aren't this good!
I didn't even have the where-with-all to look at the clock as I passed under the finish line. I didn't really care, I was just happy to be done. I hobbled over to a volunteer and he congratulated me and handed me my medal and I got a bottle of water and went off in search of G. I found him quickly and he was grinning from ear to ear. I ran over to him and hugged him, breaking into tears in the process. That was so hard.... Then G asked me if I saw my finishing time. I said no and then he told me: You finished in 5:09:57. You were 10th in your age group.
Holy crap. And he told me I ran a 1:35 half. I can remember when running a regular 1:35 half was a dream for me, never mind running it after a 90km bike ride and a 2km swim!
My goal at the beginning of all this was to break 5:30. Then when I started doing the math, I figured 5:15 would be possible. If I had a REALLY good day then maybe I might even break 5:00 hours. But if I came in between 5:00-5:15 I'd be a happy camper. And a happy camper I was. When I started this journey, I was excited by the possibilities. I wanted to be able to race a half well. I can honestly say I gave it my all. In the days that followed the race, I thought about what I'd do differently, if anything, and you know what? I wouldn't change a thing.
There is a small army of people to thank and I have several post race thoughts that have been running through my head so there will be another post later on this week. Perhaps from the French Alps....
I hope everyone back home is enjoying their Canada Day long weekend!