Guest Post: Canadian Duathlon Nationals – Race Report (Aug.24/16)

My primary goal for the 2016 duathlon season was to qualify for the 2017 age-group world championships to be held in Penticton, BC.    I had three opportunities to qualify – Gravenhurst, ON in July (2 spots per 5 year age group), the test event in Penticton, BC in August (10 spots) or Montreal, PQ in September (5 spots).  I knew with my recent weight gain and low level of fitness this summer, I would not be able to qualify on the hilly Gravenhurst course.   I was pretty confident I could qualify on the flat Montreal course to be held on the Formula 1 course at Parc Jean-Drapeau but with it being the last opportunity of the season, I didn’t want to delay until then.   I chose to compete at Penticton, both because I felt confident I could finish top 10 in the women’s 50-54, and because it would give me a chance to test out the 2017 Worlds course.

I reviewed the course profile online before registering.  It showed that the run course had a significant 400m hill at the 1.0km mark.   I assumed this meant we would go up it twice for the 10k and once for the 5k.  The bike course showed as completely flat, going along the west shore of Lake Okanagan.  A friend warned that this route could potentially be windy, so I was apprehensive about that.  Since I was so out of shape at the beginning of the season, I carried on with adding volume, speed and hills, and did four duathlons, five club time trials and three running races.   I completed the full distance of this race 17 days prior at MSC Bracebridge, which gave me confidence that at the very least, I had enough endurance to complete the full distance.  My time there was 3:18, which is about 40 minutes slower than the last time I did this distance duathlon.  I hoped to be able to improve on that time.

After Bracebridge, I had a few more long and hard workouts but then moved into my taper.  I ended up working a lot leading up to my trip, which meant I missed a couple of my lighter workouts.  In the last couple of days, I was worried that I may have tapered too much.  As well, my plantar fasciitis was flaring up and I had a nagging hamstring twinge.  Rather than get treatment, I participated in a 5 Beer-5km race five days prior to this race with my hamstring taped up.  Hey, life is too short to miss doing Stupid Human Tricks!

We arrived in Penticton two days prior to the race.  By this time a full race preview was available.  I learned that the run course was actually a 2.5km loop, meaning we would have to run up the large hill SIX times.  It was also far longer and steeper than I had anticipated.   The bike course however, was very flat and the wind at our 7am race time, was fairly calm, so that was a relief.

Going into the race, I knew I had the endurance to finish, and I knew I could get a decent time on the flat bike course.  I knew my challenge would be the hills on the run.  I spoke to some other competitors and they pointed out that the run turnaround was at the top of the steep hill.  Running up and immediately down a steep hill like that four times and then transitioning to a hard bike ride, would also be difficult.

Race day finally came.  I did about a 10 minute warm up with lots of stretching of my calves and hamstrings.  I didn’t feel anything worrisome during my warm up, especially with my hamstring taped up.  My legs actually felt fairly fresh, which made me relieved that I had tapered well.

Run 1 (goal 6:00/km, actual 5:50/km) –  When the gun went off, I settled into my pace and covered the first flat kilometre.  As we hit the uphill the first time, I was pleased to find that the hill actually flattened out in the middle so that we had a bit of a rest.  I decided that I would count the hill in pieces, ie my first run up was 2 hills done, second time up was 4 hills done, and so on.  With such a long race, I play games like this in my mind. The nice part was that the downhill was not as painful as we had thought.  As well, the downhill grade carried on for a fair bit past the visible end of the hill so I was able to carry my downhill speed.   Then with a final turn, the first 2.5 km loop was done.

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I continued on and found that the short loop was easier psychologically than a big one loop 10km.  I got to see the same water station and cheering volunteers 4x and got to go through the start/finish area 4x.  I got a nice boost every time the announcer called out my name, especially on the second time through when he announced that this was my fourth time racing Nationals and that I was a consistently strong finisher.  Not sure where he got that information from but it sure was nice to hear.  By my third lap, I was being passed by the faster competitors, but even at their 35-40 minute 10k pace, they were good enough to cheer me on as they passed.  I tried to reciprocate before they were out of range.  Finally my four laps were over and I was thrilled to see that I had run under an hour in 58:30.

Bike (goal 27km/h, actual 28.7km/h) – The bike course travelled out of town along the south shore of Lake Okanagan, past the motel strip.  The road was quite rough here but then we turned right to travel north up the west shore of the lake on the highway, where the road surface was very smooth.  Highway 97 at this point is two lanes on either side, with traffic going at least 100km/h.  The course was set up so that we had a closed lane in each direction.  It was a bit unnerving to have traffic going at that speed so close to us, but I did not feel unsafe.   Our course was two out and back 20km loops.  I checked my speed at about the 5km mark and was surprised to see that I was already at about 28 km/h average speed.  I was in my big chain ring and a mid-gear at the back and rolling very well.   It felt like I had a slight headwind but I didn’t think this could be possible if I was going that speed.  I have been tricked by the wind before so I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

Sure enough though, when I came through the 10k turnaround, I got a tailwind and my speed went up even further, to about 30 km/h.  I started getting lapped by the faster riders, who were absolutely flying on their second bike lap.  Now I started to get excited.  If I could hold my speed, and do a decent final 5km run, I might be able to break 3 hours in total.  I got back into town for the 20km turnaround at about 41 minutes.   I headed back out and started to push my pace a bit more, now that I knew what the course felt like.

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With the highway portion of the course being so flat, and only changing gears occasionally, I found myself getting mesmerized by the unchanging scenery and the traffic passing beside me.  Whenever my mind wandered to something other than focusing on going hard, I repeated in my brain, Stay In The Box.  What this meant to me, was to stay in the feeling of discomfort, of pushing harder than my body wanted and to empty my brain of anything other than that focus.

I knew that once I got to the turnaround at 30km, I could push as hard as possible and just shuffle my final 5km.   That is what I did for the final 10km of the bike.  My quads and hamstrings were getting very tired, but I just ignored them and pushed through to the end of the bike course.

Run 2 (goal 6:30/km, actual 6:28/km) – Due to pushing so hard on the bike, I had a rough transition to running. Whenever this happens, I focus on leg turnover speed, even if it means taking short, choppy strides.  At least it gets me moving forward.  I hit the base of the big hill and opted to power-stride it.  This is a positive way of saying, I was walking!  I was able to run through the flattened portion and then strided the top portion.  On the steep downhill, I was able to run again.  Once I came through the start/finish area, I was elated, knowing I only had one more 2.5km lap to go.  I did the mental math and saw that I would be able to go sub 3 hours, if I just kept moving.  Once more up and down the Vancouver Ave. hill, and then a short 500m to the finish.  Sure enough, I came across in 2:58 with a huge smile on my face!

Results – I needed to get a top 10 in the Women’s 50-54 in order to qualify for the Worlds race next year.  During the race, I became aware that there were not many women my age and over, so I was pretty much assured that there were fewer than ten in my age group, but I didn’t know how few.  When I saw the results, I found that I was 3rd W50-54…. out of 3.  This is the third time I have gotten a bronze medal at Nationals (also 2012 and 2013) but the first time that there were only 3 of us in total.

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It is disappointing and awkward to explain this result when asked.  A standard distance duathlon is a difficult sport with the two runs and it will always be less popular than triathlon.  It is hard to interest people in participating in a race of 55km.    It even seems a bit mind-boggling to me that I can propel myself over 55km in less than 3 hours, at age 53, especially while carrying extra weight.

Where does the motivation come from, to participate in obscure competitions at middle age?   It has to come from within.  (Yes, I am paraphrasing Chariots of Fire’s Eric Liddell there!) I have regained the confidence in my body’s physical abilities.  Motivation also comes from friends who see my age, my size and my life responsibilities and tell me that they are now inspired to try activities that they once thought were impossible for them.  That is humbling and motivating for me.

Now that I am back to being a sub-3 hour duathlete, I am very excited to continue my training and see what 2017 brings!

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Finally, a shout-out of gratitude to Girls Who Bike, 20 Minute Daily Groove, Runners Choice London, London Centennial Wheelers, Multisport Canada, and of course my FamJam.

Guest Post: 5 Beer – 5k Race Report (August 19, 2016)

This is the second time I have done this race which is a long-distance version of the Beer Mile.  Instead of drink a beer, run a lap of a 400m track four times, it consists of drink a beer, run a kilometre, five times.

Yes, that’s right… drink a beer first, then run a kilometre, repeat five times.

There are very strict rules for the race.  The beer must be a regulation size can or bottle.  A certain Mexican beer is out as the bottles are too small.   The beer containers must only be opened one at a time, before starting each kilometre.  All containers must be emptied completely, and proven by turning it upside down over one’s head before starting the next running loop.  If one vomits, an extra kilometre must be run as a penalty.   If one is able to keep the vomit in by swallowing, there is no penalty.  No nudity is allowed.  Apparently something happened in 2015 that necessitated this rule.  Unfortunately I missed the 2015 race so I can’t report on the nudity occurrence.

There are several divisions including wine and spirits as well.   I choose to drink non-alcoholic beer which means I am included in the beer division but I am not eligible for a trophy if I were to win.

Here is my race report, including words of wisdom for myself if I choose to partake a third time in the future.

I hesitated to take part in the event this year as I had a twingey hamstring from doing 500m repeats several nights prior.  I was also concerned due to my upcoming goal race of the season being only 5 days later.  Would I risk jeopardizing my goal race for a silly beer run?  Yes, of course I would!

I had a busy afternoon at work and didn’t end up eating my lunch until 4pm.   3.5 hours prior to race time….. my quinoa salad should stay down fine, right?

I picked up my beer on the way home, direct from the local brewery.  I had decided to use their new 0% beer.  I had never tried it before, but it sounded good.  How different could it be from the grocery brand that I had used previously, right?  I left the chilled beer in my car to warm up to the ideal temperature, somewhere between cold and hot.

The race has gotten sillier over the years and some runners are starting to wear costumes.  I use this as an excuse to wear my running kilt, which I otherwise reserve for Highland Games running races.   I figure if you’re going to do something crazy, you may as well ramp it up.

We got to the race location with about half an hour to spare.  Lots of time to sign the waiver and figure out the running course.  This would be a 500m out and 500m back flat course.  There were about 50 runners and as many spectators as all runners are required to have a designated driver.   Much smack-talk ensued at this point….. ok, maybe it was just me mocking people who were opting to do the race as members of a relay team.  I can be a bit obnoxious when it comes to Stupid Human Tricks such as this.

At 7:30, the race began.  Drinks were opened and poured.  It instantly became apparent that we were going to have a new champion.  Our Aussie transplant quickly chugged his first beer in about 5 seconds and was off for his first kilometre.  I am not a chugger, but I was done in about 40 seconds.   With my first taste, I realized that I didn’t like my new beer choice as much as my prior one, but I thought I could tolerate it.  I headed off for my first run.

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The worst part of each kilometre is the first 200m.  If you are lucky, you will have a couple of belches and then be on your way.  My body did not disappoint and I had a good first kilometre.

Onto my second lap…. I didn’t remember the second beer being so difficult to get down last time.  IMG_2525

Finally I was done and off running again.  This time the belches didn’t come quite as easily.  At about the 400m mark, the Aussie lapped me.  I plodded back to the finish.

Beer #3 was very difficult to get down.  Another woman who was running my speed asked me if I wanted to switch to a relay midrace, with her.  I agreed but she had a change of heart so I was off to do lap #3 on my own.  At this point I was questioning my decision to participate but being the stubborn Taurus that I am, I kept going.   Now everyone was starting to lap me.  Getting my belches out was not a problem at this point.  I started to realize that the beer I was drinking had a ginger taste.  Wasn’t that supposed to settle your stomach?   Nope.   Another big burp and I tasted my quinoa salad.  This was not a good sign.

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(After this point in the race, I think my picture-taking husband was laughing too hard to take any more photos!)

I finished up that lap and cracked open beer #4.   The Aussie came in to his finish at this point, with a 17:20 overall.  I slowly swallowed about half of the bottle and started to gag.   I realized I was going to lose it.  I ran to the side of the house, not wanting to yack in front of everyone.   Up came the beer, and probably some quinoa salad, but I managed to keep it in my mouth and swallow it back down.  Triumph!  Back to the driveway and I finished the rest of that beer.  Out for my second last lap.

By the time I got back to start my 5th and final beer and lap, at least half the pack was finished and the crowd was getting louder by the minute.  People tend to finish the race sober, but become very drunk about 5 minutes later as their bodies metabolize the alcohol!  At this point I decided I was going to finish no matter what.  I slowly swallowed down the last bottle, and headed out.  Just as in my last 5B-5K, the final lap was fine.  For some reason, once you get to a critical mass of beer in your gut, running is fine.   I finally came in to the finish in 35:50, about 3 minutes slower than my previous attempt, but good enough for 6th woman in the beer division.

Some interesting things to note, if you ever want to attempt this type of race.

  • As someone with a very small bladder, I am surprised that I don’t feel the urge to pee through the entire race. It actually takes me at least an hour after finishing before I am able to pee at all.
  • To assist with this, I stop drinking anything about 3 hours before the race start.
  • I did eat about 3 hours prior to the race start. I would move this back an hour or two next time, to decrease the vomit-probability.
  • After the race I had pretty severe stomach cramping for about an hour, until I threw up a couple of times and was able to start peeing again.  I did not have this cramping with the prior beer I used.  I think that may be due to the ginger flavour.  I would go back to my prior beer for future attempts.
  • The Women’s Winning Time for 2016 was 24:58. As far as we are concerned, this is a World Record!

Would I advise that you do this type of race?  Sure, but probably try it first as the member of a relay team.  I will probably be out there next year trying to better my time….  Life is too short to forego doing silly things occasionally!

Bracebridge Duathlon Race Report (August 7, 2016)–Guest Post

This was my fourth duathlon and first international distance race (10k run – 40k bike – 5k run) of the 2016 season.   I was very active in duathlons from 2008 through 2013, including competing in three national and two world age-group championships.   In the time since then, I have been dealing with injuries (a concussion and plantar fasciitis in both feet) as well as life upheaval and menopause.  When I returned to training, I had lingering symptoms and was carrying an extra 20 lbs which is very detrimental to racing speed, especially running.

My main goal for 2016 has been qualifying for the 2017 world championships.  The qualifying race would be held on August 24th, at the international distance.    This distance has typically taken me 2hrs30 to 2hrs45, depending on the course.  I knew I would feel more confident going into my goal race, if I completed one prior.  The Bracebridge race was only 17 days before August 24th, but I decided to do it and treat it as training.   I also did a full week of training leading up to the race and did not allow myself a taper.  This was going to be a test of endurance, not of speed.   I’ve used this strategy before and it takes a good deal of humility, especially when you know your less-than-stellar results are going to be posted online for everyone to see.

This was my first time doing the Bracebridge course.   I have done the hilly Multisport Canada (MSC) Gravenhurst and Huronia (Midland) races in the past, and was told that the run course would be flatter than those, but the bike course would be harder due to longer hills.   I debated changing the gearing on my bike but in discussion with others, opted to stay with my existing gears.

I drove up to Bracebridge the night before and was able to get to the race site with plenty of time in the morning.   I stick primarily to the MSC series as their races are very consistent in their organization.   I quickly had my bike racked and transition area set up, including a second pair of running shoes.  With my plantar fasciitis still bothering me a bit, I opted to do Run 1 in my cushioned training shoes and Run 2 in my racing flats.  

For my warm-up, I did about 5 minutes of easy jogging, in contrast to the normal 20+ minutes I would have done in the past.   I knew I was going to do Run 1 at an easy pace, so I didn’t need a long warm-up.  As well, I didn’t feel that I had any endurance to spare!  My legs felt good with no hamstring or calf tightness.  My nutrition was good, my stomach was settled and all the bathroom stuff got taken care of in time.  I have had some stomach upset (runner ischemia) in the past so I have now started taking two Imodium after my final bathroom visit at races, and this is working well.

Run 1 (goal 6:00/km, actual 6:09/km) –  We started out on grass and headed up a small hill.  Within the first 10 metres, I was in last place of all 24 participants.  At first, I was very disheartened about this, but then I realized that it took all the pressure off of me as there would be no one for me to try to stay ahead of.    

I always view the first 10km of an international distance duathlon as a mental challenge.  I try not to think about the fact that I am only in the first 10km of a total of 55km that I need to cover.  I need to go hard, but not so hard that I am exhausted for the bike.   When I am fit, I usually aim for 1-2 minutes slower in total than a stand-alone 10km race.   That would put me at about a 6:00/km pace at my current level of fitness.   The run was an out and back on a Muskoka road with cottages on one side and a river on the other.  It was partially shaded, which helped as the day was already quite warm at 8:30am.   My feet were tingly within the first couple of kms, due to lingering plantar fasciitis symptoms, but I knew this would improve as I carried on.  By about the 3.5km mark, I started to see the fast men coming back towards me, followed by the women around the 4km mark.   Lots of encouraging words back and forth, as many of us in the duathlon world know each other.  There was a young woman volunteer on a mountain bike playing “sweep” who was following me as I was in last place…. That’s a first for me, but she was also encouraging.  I plodded on, keeping my pace just below 6:00/km, but I faded in the last 3km and finished up a bit over that.

Bike (goal 24km/h, actual 24.8km/h) – a fairly quick transition, then out on the bike course.  It started out fairly flat but at km4, there was a very big uphill.  I had to go into my easiest gear, and stand up, but I got up it fine.  After that, there were quite a few more ups and downs, but none as big as that one.   In retrospect, staying with my existing gearing was the right decision.  Mentally, this one-loop bike course went on forever.  I had done a number of solo 50-60km rides in training, but my total bike mileage year-to-date is very low and I had not done any 40km time trials as I had in past years.  I just kept telling myself to ignore my speed and get through it.  The second half of the course had more of a tailwind than the first half, which was motivating.  Finally it was over and I was back into transition.

Bracebridge bike

Run 2 (goal 6:30/km, actual 6:30/km) – Ideally, I try to keep my second run to within 15-20 seconds per km of my first run.  Any closer than that means I haven’t worked hard enough in my first run.   Any slower than that means I have gone way too hard on the bike portion.  I headed out of transition feeling my normal amount of quad pain after a 40km bike ride, but was pleasantly surprised to find that my legs were ok after the first km.   I got into a good running rhythm and started to feel very happy, knowing that I was going to finish the full distance in a solid manner.

 

I headed in towards the finish area and became quite emotional, realizing that I had met my goal of getting back up to the level of fitness where I could finish this race distance.  I was thinking of all the life stuff that I had dealt with since the last time I did a full duathlon, especially the sudden cancer death of my dear friend Shirley last summer.  I was very down for many months and for a while I thought that I would never compete again, let alone at this distance.  Shirley’s cancer was completely unexpected and it threatened my previous assumption of my own health.  The feeling of relief and gratitude when I crossed the finish line, was suddenly overwhelming.  

It was pretty easy to collate my results….. 2nd of 2 in my age group, 8th of 8 women, 24th of 24 overall, and 3hrs18 total time, my slowest for this distance by about 25 minutes.   Last in every way and a personal worst time, but it just didn’t matter.   What a relief to know that I had met my race goal of finishing this distance.  

Here are some random pics with my pal Shirley.  Yes, she did 50 half marathons by the time she turned 50!  She is very deeply missed.

 

 

 

But What If I Finish Last? (Guest Post)

We all have fears about trying something new.  Nowhere is the fear of having a poor result more present than in sport. No one wants to see their name at the bottom of the list of results.

I am an avid follower of Robin Sharma, who is a great proponent of facing your fears.  He says, “Run towards your fears.  Embrace them.  On the other side of your greatest fears lives your greatest life.”

Although I’ve participated in endurance sports my entire life – running, cycling and cross-country skiing, 2008 was my introduction to the sport of duathlon.  Duathlon is like triathlon, but without the swimming, so it is a run-bike-run competition.

After a fairly successful first season in local races, I discovered that the Canadian Duathlon National Championships were being held in Montreal (only about a 7 hour drive away from where I live).

I also found out that if I competed there, I would stand a good chance of qualifying for the Age-Group World Championships in North Carolina the next year.  But the problem was, I knew the competition would be far better than me.

Did I really want to drive 7 hours to take part in a race that I knew deep down, I had zero chance of doing well in?  Intense fear and negative self-talk almost prevented me from taking part, but  I participated anyway and came, you guessed it, dead last in my age group.  But I still did well enough that I managed to qualify for Worlds the next year.

You’d think that the elation of qualifying for Worlds would be enough to set aside any future fears, but it actually only compounded it. At the World Championships, not only was I out of my league but our required uniform was made of red spandex.  Stretchy red bike shorts on me….not my favourite look!

Worlds NC 2008

Race day came and so did the rain.  I adjusted my goal to “not crashing on the bike, and not being last”.  In the end, I missed my time goal and was second last in my age group, but it just didn’t matter…. I was able to compete at the international level, which is something I never imagined possible in my younger years.

When I hear friends use the fear of finishing last as a reason to not enter a competition, I say to them, what is so bad about finishing last?  Is it embarrassment?  Concern over what other people will think?  What to say when people ask you how you finished?

It may be helpful to have your answer already prepared in your mind, such as

  • I achieved my time goal
  • I ran according to my plan of alternating running and walking
  • I had a wonderful time outside on a beautiful day
  • I loved helping to raise money for a great cause
  • I spent a great morning outside with my friends
  • I tried something for the first time in my life and I loved it!

And what if you do finish last?  What if someone makes a negative comment to you about that?

Ask yourself, Why are they saying this?  What does this comment say about them and their mindset?  Do not let their negative comments take away from your achievement.

Fast forward to 2016, and I am now attempting to regain my fitness after several years of life upheaval.  Just last weekend, I again finished last.  This time it was not just last in my age group, but last overall.  I was actually in last place within the first 10 metres of the race, and I held on to that place for the next 3 hrs and 18 minutes… but that’s a story for another blog post.

Bracebridge Duathlon, August 7th…. I would like to say I was finishing ahead of the guys in the picture below, but they were in the triathlon that started after the duathlon!

Bracebridge 2016

You will never know what you are truly capable of, until you try.  Sign up for that event, use the fear to motivate you to train, stand on the starting line and know that you are pursuing something awesome. Focus on how proud you will be when you finish your first competition.  When you cross that finish line, absorb the cheers of the crowd and be grateful for what you have just accomplished.  Do not let the fear of finishing last prevent you from experiencing some of the great events that are out there.