Ironman Training, Race Reports, Triathlon

Ironman Canada Race Report Part 2

Here, it is, the second part. Read about the lead up to the race in Part 1

It felt as though I had barely crawled into bed as my alarm chirped its 4am wake up call. The morning was overcast and cold and the wet ground indicated it had already been raining. We had decided not to take the complimentary shuttles, opting to avoid the containers of nervous energy and rather, walk to the start. However the walk took us longer than we had anticipated leaving us rushing into transition with little time to spare. This was good and bad (at least for me). Bad, because I was now in a rush to return the food items to my bag and do any last minute checks on my equipment before my usual struggle to don my wetsuit. Good, because I had no time to worry about excessively about anything prior to stepping into the water. As a last minute decision I put a long sleeve top into my T1 bag, a decision that world prove fortuitous

We stepped into the cold water and stood looking out over the lake in silence. Presently, the National Anthem began playing over the loud speakers. As we listened, the rain began to fall. And that was to set the tone for the rest of the day.

The swim was a double loop, and the course was crowded. I tried to focus on keeping a consistent stroke. It felt like forever, but at last I made my final turn towards the beach and T1. I was being hit by waves coming at me from the side, I couldn’t figure out how I hadn’t noticed this choppiness before. Confused, I battled my way to the beach. (Later, spectators would confirm that the wind did indeed kick up, just before I exited the water). As I ran out of the water, I started to undo my wetsuit, the competitive sprinter in me taking over for a moment. Of course, the few seconds I was saving here would be a drop in the ocean compared to the 15 hours I expected to spend out on the course that day, but ‘old habits dies hard’. I had never been at a race with wetsuit strippers before and I didn’t know what I was missing! I sat on the ground and a second later they had yanked my wetsuit off and handed it back to me.

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“Wow, that was easy!” I thought as I jogged towards the change tent. (I know, I was supposed to be ‘walking with purpose’, what can I say? I was caught up in the moment…)

Inside the change tent, I found an empty spot, tipped out my bag and hurriedly got changed. I had opted to wear my bathing suit on the swim, and then change completely in T1. A helpful volunteer held out the late addition sweater and asked if I wanted to wear it, I gave it one more second of consideration and decided that yes, I would. I slipped it on, followed it with the waterproof jacket and headed out to my bike. I jogged past the sunscreen station, (not doing a roaring trade given the weather) and headed to the bike racks.

I almost ran right past my bike and had to crawl under the rack to get to it. I left T1 laughing to myself. The rain was really heavy as I mounted my bike and headed off towards Callaghan. I was passing a lot of people early on, it was almost impossible, with the bulk of riders to keep out of the draft zones, I just concentrated on making constant forward progress. I was concerned I might be going too fast, but a check of my heart rate confirmed that I was fine. I was cold, and very glad that I had worn the sweater after all.

This part of the course is a steep hill (and the location for the Olympic ski jumps, if confirmation of the gradient were required). I settled into my easiest gear and started the long grind uphill. Part way up, during a gear change, my chain came off and jammed my pedals. I wobbled alarmingly for a second as I desperately tried to unclip a foot and stand. This would not be a good time to have my first clipped in fall! Thankfully, just in the nick of time, I was able to put my foot down, climb off my bike and fix the situation.

Crisis averted. That would have been embarrassing!

Now I just had to get going again on this steep hill. A couple of false starts later and I was again on the move, albeit slowly. The remainder of the climb was uneventful and I reached the turnaround at the top feeling good. I had counted on taking advantage of a good dose of ‘free’ speed on the downhill, however, the rain had put paid to that idea. The water ran in rivulets across the road and the fabric of my jacket snapped in the wind, making the descent quite terrifying.

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The course then rejoined the highway and I continued on the long descent towards Pemberton. The monotony was broken by regular aid stations stocking water, Gatorade, energy gels and bananas. My nutrition plan called for me refilling my water and also eating bananas. Volunteers were lined up along the road with various offerings. I slowed a little and reached out to grab a water bottle as I rode by. Success.

My knees were aching – which I put down to the temperature, which I later found out was under 10 degrees Celsius. On top of that, all of the muscles in my neck and shoulders were screaming, probably also due to my tensing up in the cold. I finally made it to the Pemberton turn. This meant a 40km flat out and back before heading back up that long hill to Whistler. Just as we started the out and back, we passed our special needs bags. I made a snap decision that I would not stop. I hadn’t had a flat, so I didn’t need the spare tube, and I was feeling pretty good and thought I could manage without the extra nutrition items – even my beloved Ribena.

I really wanted to make up some time here, but more importantly at that moment I really wanted to use the bathroom! At the next aid station (which typically took forever to arrive) I stopped my bike and joined the queue (of course). I took the opportunity to stretch a little, which elicited a very satisfying crack from my neck. A few minutes later, I was on my way again. The ride now seemed to be going quite well and I was enjoying it. Until, that is, I reached the turnaround.

“That’s why it felt so good!” I thought to myself, as I pedalled against the headwind on the return journey. I was feeling very sleepy by this time, struggling to keep my eyes open. Luckily I had experienced this in Oliver, had had come to Whistler prepared, so now I ripped open the tiny bag that I had stashed on my bike which contained some Tylenol and a caffeine pill.

Soon, I began to feel better, and as I left Pemberton behind, I finally managed to snag a banana from the aid station. Now, I just had to conquer that 30km climb back to Whistler (and then the little matter of a marathon, but let’s not think about that right now). The climb was long and slow, but I already knew I could do it, and I could see looking at my watch that I would be well within the cut-off.

The climb felt like forever, finally, to my great relief, I saw the sign for the village and the course veered off to the side. I had tears in my eyes when I finally saw the arch to T2. The bike cut-off had been my biggest fear throughout the year of training and this moment was arguably the biggest achievement of the day.

As I entered the change tent, Kay hailed me. I was briefly confused, as I expected her to be further ahead. Unfortunately, her race was not going to plan, mostly owing to the cold. I will forever be grateful for her enthusiastic encouragement, particularly given the difficulties she was facing.

Another wonderful volunteer came to help me change in T2. Unfortunately, though she was very patient and helpful, my mind was not in the right place to receive help. She was handing me things from my bag, but everything was in the wrong order. I couldn’t quite compute this change. Unfortunately, in the end, I ended up leaving transition without my water bottle.

“Never mind, there’s plenty of water stations on course”

Famous last words.

The first 5km of the run is a loop around Lost Lake, and it started very well. I was surprised how tight all of my muscles felt, probably a result of being tense on the bike. Even my biceps ached. Around 10km, I switched to a run-walk strategy. I ran between the aid stations, eating what I felt like from the selections available.

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Then, it happened. My ankle started hurting.

Ironically, not the ankle that less than a year ago had healed from a stress fracture. My left ankle had never given me trouble before, but now there was a stabbing pain.

If only I had some Tylenol. But it had been carefully stashed in the pocket of my water bottle. The same water bottle that I had accidentally left in T2.

I kept walking, but I was barely holding things together. Thank goodness, no-one was nice to me or I might have burst into tears. I couldn’t understand it. Yes, this was Ironman, I suppose I could be forgiven for being a bit emotional, but really? This just didn’t happen to me!

I marched on. I needed to keep moving as fast as I could. The kilometres ticked by so slowly. It seemed like an eternity before I reached the special needs bags and the long awaited painkillers. I stopped this time and drank the emergency bottle of Ribena. I closed my eyes. I could hear the voice of the announcer calling in finishers nearby. I felt so jealous of those athletes, already done for the day. I was at about 25km here, so there were another 17 to go. I had to keep moving – away from the finish.

I knew I could finish now, all I had to do was keep putting one foot in front of the other. Actually I felt quite good, considering.

One foot in front of the other. That’s what I did for about the next three hours. Aid station to aid station. Kilometre marker to kilometre marker. Never in my life have kilometre markers seemed so far apart.

There was a blister on my foot now, I was sure. I didn’t look, how would that have helped? My ankle actually felt quite a bit better now, and I no longer felt like bursting into tears, so things were looking up.

I was hugely disappointed though as I realised that I could not make my goal of finishing in less than 15 hours. I really hadn’t been that invested in doing so before the race. It was more of a case of “wouldn’t it be amazing if I could”. As the day had gone on, however, it had become clear that I was capable of achieving that, though perhaps on a different day.

The sign said 5km to go.

“Great, I usually take about 30 minutes to do 5km”

This 5km took 41:24.

4km to go.

“Seriously? I’ve only covered 1km?”

I kept walking through the darkness.

3km. “3km is nothing”

2km. “Will this ever end”

I was striding along with another girl (whose name I don’t recall). We passed a sign saying 41km.

“1km to go” she commented.

1.2km, I corrected. We laughed about the 0.2km being our undoing.

Finally, the finish chute came into sight…and the course lead us on a small (was that 0.2km?) loop away into the village! Oh the cruelty!

Be strong!

Now we were heading for the finish.

The music was blaring, the lights were so bright. Suddenly this was it. The moment I had been training for all year…and waiting for all day!

Everyone was cheering. I closed my eyes; I wanted to remember this moment. I ran the last 100m down the chute, high-fiving total strangers as the words

“Alison, You Arrrrrrrre an IRONMAN!!” rang through the speakers.

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I almost couldn’t believe it.

Someone hung a medal around my neck and a volunteer steered me to pick up my finisher t-shirt and cap and pose for a picture.

Then, like a mirage, Kay appeared… with a slice of pizza!

Having completed her own race, she had waited for me at the finish line. We went to collect my bike and gear bags; I ate the pizza and I thought it was the best I’ve ever tasted in my life! As we walked back to the hotel I was in a daze.

My finishing time of 15:42 had been a little disappointing…on the other hand, I had just completed an Ironman. I wasn’t quite sure how to feel. When I got back, I checked my phone and was truly humbled to see the number of messages from friends. So many of them had been live tracking my progress online throughout the day and had already sent their congratulations.

So there it is. Done.

I’m at the end of my year long journey, or could that be the start of something new?

I used to say I would never attempt an Ironman. Then I said I’d only ever do one. During the marathon in Whistler, I was sure I would never do this again.

But I know I can do better…next time?

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Race Reports

My First Olympic Distance – UBC

Wanting to get my season started earlier this year, I decided to sign up for the UBC race in Vancouver. My friend, Kay, agreed and we decided to make a weekend of it.

After some discussion of the relative merits of sprint vs Olympic distance, as well as the relative competitiveness of each category, I signed up for the Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run). Kay, with her own goals in mind, signed up for the sprint.

In th days prior to the race  we eagerly watched the weather forecasts – it looked like being a cold day. There followed much angst (and googling) regarding how to dress on the day.

Soon the big day arrived and we packed up our gear and made the five hour drive down to Vancouver. Once there we quickly mobilised our bikes to go and check out the course before it got dark.

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Photo credit Seekaytri

The course looked simple enough, but the run from the pool to transition was incredibly long. We discussed the merits of having shoes at the swim exit. The temperature was also a concern, it was cold! Again, I wondered if I had an appropriate clothing plan.

The next morning I was up early as I had to get my bike safety-checked and my transition set up before my allotted heat time of 8:20, plus I was still on the fence over what to wear. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not nearly as cold as I had feared (though, be assured it definitely was very cold).

I chatted to some of my fellow competitors, and still no consensus. I don’t really own a lot of cold weather tri gear, with most of my events taking place in the sunny Okanagan, so the options open to me were somewhat limited.

I knew I didn’t want to spend a lot of time changing. I might not be in with a chance of winning (in fact might, does not really describe my nonexistent odds of winning very adequately at all), but nevertheless, my time is important to me and I didn’t want to waste it unnecessarily; this was a race after all. I left my fleece on my bike, just in case, and headed down to the pool.

At the poolside we were given a ‘dry bag’ which would be handed to us as we exited the pool. In it I put my shoes, (switch into bike shoes and leave them in transition awaiting my return for the run) and a towel. At the last second I threw in the thin long sleeve top that I had put on when I woke up that morning; not really triathlon attire, but…just in case.

The swim was 1500m and snaked up and down the 50m pool: up and back in each lane, duck under the lane rope and repeat. After eight lanes, get out, return to the start and do it again. The start was delayed by about an hour, I waited nervously. When we were finally called, we were instructed to line up based on our expected finish time, then, one at a time, at ten second intervals, we were started.

Immediately I missed having had a warm up, there had been spare space in the pool for a warmup lane. I had attempted to do a dry land warmup, but it clearly had not been adequate: I was struggling. It took me nearly 400m to settle into a rhythm, during which time around ten people passed me. All I could think was that I must have really overestimated my abilities! (Of course, in reality it could just have easily been their underestimations).

The walk back to the start was a welcome reprieve before more mind-numbing laps. People were still passing me and I had no idea of how fast I was (or wasn’t) going. It certainly didn’t feel fast.

When I finally got out of the water we had to walk (Walk! Not run, this is a pool!) – walk really quickly – almost all of the way around the pool to the door and out into the sting of the six-degree air. We were handed our dry bags and there were tents available for changing.

I stayed with my semi-minimalist strategy; I towelled off the worst of the water, put on the shirt over my tri top and pulled on my shoes. I jogged up the lengthy hill to transition, switched shoes, grabbed my helmet and bike and headed for the mount line.

The bike course consisted of four fairly flat loops. By the first turnaround, I was really regretting not putting my gloves on.

Should I stop and put them on?

No, that’s a waste of time – tough it out!

The route was shaded by trees on the way out, but shards of sunlight pierced through for the return trip. They felt so nice; the temptation to stop and stretch out like a cat in the sunbeam was almost impossible to resist.

I kept going.

I focussed on my breathing and my heart rate (both good)

…and how damn cold it was. My mind was really starting to wander in the second half.

I thought about the upcoming run, my cats and sunbeams (did I mention how cold it was?), last nights dinner, todays lunch, this blog entry…How much farther 40km is than my usual 20km (and how much longer Ironman would be than this). I seemed to be going so slowly.

Am I on lap two or three?

Finally, I completed my last lap – I could not have been happier, and turned back to transition.

I couldn’t really feel my toes, and my fingers refused to co-operate in changing gear or braking, but I made it to transition, changed into my running shoes and headed out.

At the start of the run I focussed on going slowly to allow the blood to return to my extremities. As I ran I suddenly realised that I was actually going to do this – my first Olympic tri – I knew I could finish! It really is quite new for me to be able to line up the start of events such as this, safe in the knowledge that I am capable of completion.

I ran on.

I should have taken off my sweater at transition, it’s too hot now. I felt jealous of the athletes that had started later, just for a minute. I tied my shirt around my shoulders and carried on.

As I came to the last couple of kilometres I gave my body the command to speed up – just like I always do.

Nothing.

OK…This speed is probably good.

I saw the finish.

How about a sprint?

No.

I crossed the line solidly (and at the speed I had been maintaining throughout the run). People commented that I was still smiling. Of course I was – I had just finished my first Olympic distance triathlon!

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Finish Line – Photo credit UBC Recreation

My friend appeared at my side and told me that my finish time was around 3:20. I had hoped to complete in under 3:30. Honestly the race had felt subpar the entire time, so I am thrilled that I could have beaten my goal and done so with such a solid performance.

3:19:13

I’m pretty sure there’s scope for improving that substantially in the future, but that’s for another day – hopefully a warmer one.

All that’s was left now was to cheer our friend Kay across the line in the sprint event – which I failed to achieve, she was just too fast, even winning her age group!

UBC tri KS (25)

Photo credit Seekaytri

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Race Reports

The Rustbuster – Lavington 10km

After the success of my Christmas runs, I didn’t really run for about six weeks. I could feel the shin splints beginning to rear their heads a d so I focused on cycling to try to maintain running fitness with a lower risk of injury.

The Lavington 10k is the first race of the Interior Running Association season. It is a beautiful course largely in the middle of nowhere, mostly flat bit with a few rolling hills. It seemed like as good a time as any to kick-start the 2015 season. The interior running Association is made up of local club runners, a slightly faster field than the more ‘generic races I usually partake in.

When I woke up that morning, I looked out of the window to try to ascertain the weather conditions, which would inform my clothing choices.

It looked cold.

I decided to throw a couple of different options into the car as I headed out to the race. After checking in and getting my number (and waiting in an incredibly long bathroom queue), I still didn’t know what to wear. It was very cold, but the sun was starting to peek through, so after much indecision, I opted for a T-shirt but long pants and gloves. It was risky, but I hoped it would warm up quickly and thus eliminate the need to carry a sweater for much of the race.

Thanks SeeKayTri for this picture!

Thanks SeeKayTri for this picture!

Right from the start, the field swarmed past me. I was ready for that, I had decided to start off slow, but still, as I looked back, there didn’t seem to be many people left.

I might come last!

Coming last is a constant worry for me, particularly in smaller, faster races; but I pushed it to the back of my mind and focused on maintaining a steady pace.

I saw the 1km marker.

Great, just need to do that nine more times…I can do that.

People were still passing me. I seemed to be running so slowly.

As if to underscore this point, at that moment, my friend Markus came past me, congratulating me on my ‘marathon pace’ as he did so.

Marathon pace?

This should be 10k pace!

Wow I really am slow.

Nevertheless, I ran on. I needed to maintain a good marathon pace for Ironman, so if today I couldn’t manage a 10k pace, I would make it practice for that.

2km marker.

Just need to do that four more times… I can do that.

I kept running, people kept slowly passing me, but my pace felt nice, my heart rate was good, this was sustainable.

3km

Just need to do that three, no, three and a bit times… (OK, I admit that little piece of math stumped me as I ran on).

Around this time I started to get a stitch. This was interesting as I haven’t really had that problem since I learned to run seven years ago. It wasn’t too bad though, I could still run, but it wasn’t going away.

4km took us into the shade of some trees, I briefly wished I has gone with long sleeves, but after about a kilometre (which felt like forever), we emerged back out into the sun (such as it was) again.

Then the stitch really kicked in. I tried all of the usual stretches, massaging, poking and swearing, none of them seemed to work. I wondered how much faster I would be able to go if I could breathe properly. That 3km was pretty miserable actually.

Luckily by 8km it was beginning to fade, there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Just 2km to go… I KNOW I can do that!

I began to zero in on a single runner ahead of me and slowly (oh so slowly) catching and passing them. The slower pace at the start beginning to pay off. As I came close to the finish I kicked up my speed a notch.

I passed two more people.

I came to the final turn, about 25m to go. Someone yelled that I would be under 65 minutes.

“He must be talking to someone else, I’m not that fast”

The next thought tumbled in:

“It doesn’t matter who he’s talking to, we started together, I’m under 65?”

There was one more person between me and the line.

I sprinted.

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I   Ran   So   Fast!

I could hear my friends shouting my name. If I had had even three more paces I would have passed her, but it wasn’t to be.

My final time was 1:03:37 a full six minutes faster than my last 10km race. I obviously wasn’t going as slowly as I had initially feared, perhaps it was an illusion caused by the proportionally faster field. A pretty good start to the year.

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Musings, Race Reports

Testing the Waters

I joined the Okanagan Masters Swim Club two years ago, after my first triathlon, and with a view to swimming across Okanagan lake.

I had watched the masters sessions from the public lanes for a few weeks before I was convinced to give it a go (thanks Jeanette). I was sure I wasn’t good enough, I mean, these guys were Masters afterall.

That first session ended with a set of sprints:

“Just dive off the blocks and sprint 50m down the pool”

10 times.

“Can I run away?”

Oh these people are so fit, they would probably catch me anyway.

I was so scared!

Blocks, dive sprint….

I had never successfully dived (and some might say that’s still true), much less of starting blocks. And sprint? 50m was such a long way.

What on earth was I thinking, I’ll just slip off back to my safe public lane……

Well, you probably guessed that I did it…

Very badly!

My fastest sprint was around 66 seconds and my best dive could possibly, if one were very charitable, be better defined as a flop.

But I didn’t die…and the only way was up.

That summer I did swim across the lake, and it turned out I rather enjoyed open water swimming.

Fast forward to today and I’m still there, still slow, but we are a ‘seriously social’ swim club and it’s (nearly) always fun.

“So, when are you going to enter a swim meet?”

Oh probably…Never.

I’m too slow

I can’t dive (still)

I can’t turn

Did I mention how slow I am?

Theres so many technical rules

Its too exposed, in a lane on my own…it’s just TOO SCARY

I’ll just volunteer, we need volunteers right?

Recently the club President had asked me what needed to happen to encourage me to enter a meet.

Oh, so many things: Dives, turns….etc etc… I’d probably enter the next one…

He probably didn’t realise that in that moment I made a scary promise, that I would now be honour-bound (if only in my own head) to keep.

All too fast, a couple of months later, chatting in the hot tub after practise (I only swim so that I can sit in the hot tub afterwards), my friend tells me that there is a meet in a couple of weeks…I should enter.

Emergency, emergency! Sirens started going off in my brain.

They had an encouraging answer to all of my reservations – Masters is very inclusive.

And I signed up for my first swim meet.

I’d spent some time working on my dives and turns over Christmas, so whilst still a long way from technically perfect, they were slightly less of a gamble.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all

O woke up on the day to find it had snowed overnight, thus followed a nerve-wracking hour of driving along the highway to Vernon. A spin around half way really got my heart-rate up and did nothing to improve my stress level.

I bumped into my team mates just outside the pool, further ensuring that I couldn’t run away. We changed and headed poolside. As we checked the heat sheets, I felt totally out of my depth, a fish out of water – this is probably how these idioms originated!

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Everyone jumped into the water to warm up, I hung back, maybe they won’t realise I’m an imposter.

I tested a couple of dives and turns, which seemed to go quite well, I felt slightly better.

The first event was 400m freestyle.

As I stood shaking on the starting blockone of my teammates shouted my name – I hoped I wouldn’t let them down or do a spectacularly bad dive in front of everyone. I decided to just aim to complete this first race.

The whistle went, deep breath, dive.

That was OK…now, swim.

Here comes the wall, deep breath, turn.

Still OK…keep swimming…I’m going too fast, that’s bad, but I can slow down, not a crisis.

Wall again, deep breath, turn…

…and crisis!

The turn didn’t go well, I came off the wall at the wrong angle, and I took breath that consisted largely of water…keep swimming, slow down.

Can’t breathe

I tried swimming slower, breathing deeper, I swam with my head up for a bit, but I couldn’t get it back. I couldn’t stop (actually I was later informed that I could have stopped to catch my breath and then continued).

The realisation hit me – this isn’t going to work.

And so, in the first event of my first ever swim meet, I recorded the first DNF of my life.

My teammates were very supportive, but it felt like I’d proved that I shouldn’t be there. I consoled myself with the fact that the next event was unlikely to go worse than that, the only way was up!

There was a short break before my next event, 50m breaststroke. This was the event had been most worried about; I was worried that getting my stroke wrong could get me disqualified.

In the event it was fine, I concentrated hard on getting my stroke right. I could hear my teammates cheering, which made me smile. As I came to the wall I saw Brent there, encouraging me.

Don’t screw this up now

Two hands together…and go.

It felt really good. My time of 56:25, whist not groundbreaking in the slightest, was the fastest I have ever recorded. Not so long ago, a 50m breaststroke sprint was nearly impossible for me, so definitely an improvement.

100m freestyle came next. I was still jittery about those turns. I made the first one, but then my nerves go the better of me, I decided to err on the side of caution and finished the race with touch turns. I was definitely getting tired by the second 50m but I kept pushing on.

1:42:85, I’ll take that.

50m freestyle, I’ve already proved I can do this, just need to do it again.

47:88, cool, that’s quite a bit under a minute.

So all in all, the day turned around pretty well. Thanks to my OMSC teammates for their support… and for refraining from laughing (at least whilst I was in the room).

It’s clear I won’t be breaking any records in the foreseeable future, but that’s OK, we are a seriously social swim club after all.

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Race Reports, Running

The Happiest Place on Earth

How could an Avengers themed half marathon at Disneyland not be fun?

I posed this question to a few friends, and it turns out they had a rather long list of reasons.

Most seemed perturbed by the half marathon aspect, but wished me luck anyway. Those not averse to the thought of running 21.1km thought that Disneyland was generally excessive and not very serious. – but were ‘sure I’d enjoy it’.

Still being the ‘collector’ type, I signed up anyway.

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Now, if you have been following my blog (if you haven’t, where have you been?), you will know that having signed up for this race in the spring, my training rather got derailed over the summer. Four weeks out, as I checked my calendar, my longest run had been 9km. Not even half of my upcoming half marathon.

This of course, is the danger of destination races – whether I ran or not, I still had a California vacation booked. I decided to make the best of it and attempt some kind of run/walk strategy.

After a short chat with Coach Luke, we had a plan: 5 minutes run, 1 minute walk, repeat for 21.1km.

I hadn’t used this kind of strategy since I had learnt to run six years ago. Then it had been necessary as I didn’t have the ability to run further. As I had got fitter, I had left it behind to become a ‘proper’ runner that didn’t need to take breaks every few minutes.

As much as it felt like a step backward, I knew it was a smart choice if I was to attempt this distance without the requisite training. And whilst an x-ray had confirmed that the fracture was officially healed, there was still doubt about the strength of my ankle over 21km on the road.

I got on the plane in -10 degrees and stepped off a few hours later in Los Angeles to perfect running temperatures. The day before the race I was due to pick up my race package at the expo. Which, once I located it amid the sprawl of Disney, was very well organised and enjoyable.

Whilst at the expo, I took in a presentation by Jeff Galloway, Olympian and writer of a number of running books. Obviously he was promoting his preferred run walk run brand of training, which it turns out, involves a lot more walking than I was planning. His message was to take walk breaks right from the start, reasoning that any energy saved early on is available for use during the last few miles.

Remember that

All in all, it was a very interesting talk. I might not be switching to the 15/15 seconds he claims to use these days, but it definitely gave me more confidence in the plan we had selected.

The race itself starts at the eye-wateringly early time of 5:30am. Presumably to accommodate the extensive road closures and protect park revenues. So, at 4am I woke up, ate breakfast and walked over to the start. I spent a tense few minutes on the way over, trying to get my Garmin to co-operate and pair with its heart rate monitor; I decided we were no longer friends.

I lined up amongst the costumed runners, a plethora of Captain Americas, Thors, Ironmen (the Marvel kind, not the triathlon kind – though, who knows?) and other assorted superheroes. The race has around 12,000 participants, seeded into starting corrals based on anticipated finishing time. I was in corral H, the last and largest; populated by slowpokes, walkers, first timers and anyone else who had been unable to prove their pedigree by providing a result from an acceptable prior race. Of the 12,000, probably 11,500 started ahead of me.

The only way was up.

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As it turned out, it was easy to pace slowly at the start, as going any faster would have meant dodging between walkers. Even during my walk breaks (which I took from the start – thanks Jeff) I was faster than many of these people. I decided that even whilst walking, I would make it a goal to keep passing people.

The first 5km of the race winds through the two Disney parks. Actually it was rather less glamorous than it sounds and we took in a significant number of back lots. We did however run through Cars land, towards Paradise bay inside Disney California Adventure. We then entered Disneyland proper taking a route through Frontier land and Fantasyland, up through the castle and onto Main St USA before heading out onto the streets of Anaheim. Progress was occasionally hampered by runners occasionally unexpectedly darting off across the route to join a line (this is Disney!) to take a picture with Thor or Captain America.

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Later as I hobbled around the park, I tried to identify the route we took and was amazed at what I must have missed as I focussed on the job in hand.

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I do remember almost breaking the other ankle on this tram line!

As we left the park, the wind started to pick up. I kept running and walking, running and walking, trusting the plan and obeying the Garmin every time it beeped. It became my new best friend, holding my hand through this challenge. I forgave it for the stress it caused before the start.

The wind got stronger, soon we turned onto a path which ran alongside a large expanse of sand. The sand was being blown across the course painfully hitting exposed skin and making it very difficult to see or breathe. I was reduced to running with my eyes closed, hoping not to run into someone else doing the same. Capes were snapping in the wind and shields and hats flew by. I held onto my race number for dear life as it flapped in the wind, it represented my access to the finish line and more importantly, my official timing chip was stuck to the back of it, so it was clearly a vital piece of kit!

Respite came as we approached the Angels baseball stadium where we entered through the tunnel and ran around the home plate before leaving.

How cool is that?

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No seriously, I have no idea how cool it is, and I have not even a passing interest in baseball, but I have to admit, images of a dozen movies ran through my head in that moment – yeah, it was pretty cool.

An announcer helpfully informed us that we had only four miles to go, which was useful as the mile marker had blown over just like most of its comrades throughout the course. I took a peek at my watch

Big mistake!

When will I learn?

I think it was a bit of half marathon brain addled maths. But in that moment I calculated that I was on track to finish in over three hours.

Disappointed didn’t even cover it, this was the hardest part of the race for me. I decided the best thing to do was to keep going and hope I was wrong.

Three hours would be a good achievement because I knew I was doing my best.

I continued to remind myself how many people I had passed already and was continuing to pass. I felt pretty good

Perhaps I wasn’t trying hard enough?

No! Don’t change anything now.

By mile ten I was feeling better. I took my last walk break at mile eleven. When my trusty Garmin, which had brought me so far, dutifully beeped to alert me of my upcoming walk break, I ignored it.

Soon afterward, I questioned this decision. But I knew it was the right one. Every beep I ignored, galvanised me further. I tried to speed up, in fact this turned out to be the fastest kilometre of the race. It felt good to open up; I was passing people like crazy now, I just needed to keep it up to the finish.

I crossed the line and collected my fancy Disney medal. Someone handed me a Disney branded space blanket which would no doubt have been more effective if it hadn’t immediately turned into a parachute. The wind was so high that tents were flipping in the finish area and they had to cancel the awards ceremony and move everyone on.

My final time was 2:37:19 – well under three hours, which was a relief

I don’t know if I could have gone faster, though, I think it was probably the right decision not to try on this occasion.

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Things I learned:

I can run a half marathon.  I know that a lot of people claimed to know that about me beforehand, but I certainly wasn’t sure. It is also reasonable to believe then that I could also run a marathon in the not too distant future. Even if it will be slow going.

Jeff Galloway was right, saving at the start pays of at the end. That was a new experience for me.

Trying to walk around Disney after a half marathon is a bad idea.

Do not attempt maths on the course, and never look at your watch.

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Race Reports

Throwing a little trail into the mix

Pursuant to my goal of increasing mileage gradually, I decided to sign up for a small 6km fun run as a stepping stone to a slightly more serious 9km cross country race. My hope was that running off road would afford my ankle a more forgiving surface whilst I built up distance.

The Kokanee Fun Run is a very small, family oriented affair intended as a fundraiser. At the same time there was a 3km run, popular with children.

Immediately, a whole hoard of children sprinted off a head of the adults.

I tried to keep up.

They are just little kids.

But I quickly realised this was unsustainable. I slowed to the pace that I knew I could and should be running at to complete the course. By 1km, most of those little speed demons had slowed down and I congratulated myself for finally learning the lesson of the tortoise and the hare, after only 34 years!

Speedy children aside, my run was going well, I fell into a rhythm. I caught myself smiling. A friend even remarked on how well I was running.

I knew he was right, I just didn’t know why. I had taken four months off running and now I found myself running faster than ever before.

Maybe I should be injured every summer?

I passed one last kid. Then we were directed up a set of stairs and off the nicely groomed gravel path and onto a mud trail.

Suddenly I found myself unable to run on the uneven surface. I felt so uncoordinated. The kid came back past me.

I pressed on carefully, marveling at how difficult this had suddenly become, and soon came round for my second lap. I was on my own now, the people around me stopping at 3km.

I considered stopping with them, it was only a fun run after all. But my newfound determination surprised even me, I knew I could do this.

Back along the gravel path, I ran, dreading that upcoming trail. The second time was just as bad as the first, but at least I knew it was coming this time. I just didn’t seem to be able to place my feet firmly, my ankle proving that it was still weak after it’s unexpected vacation.

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Finally, the gravel returned and I ran to the finish.

36:06 – about the same pace as I kept on the road, very encouraging, especially considering how much I was struggling on the trail. I felt so tired, how could I go half as far again in just a couple of weeks?

The Larry Nicholas Memorial 9k is part of the Interior Running Association cross-country series.

My memories of the compulsory annual cross country at school are 100% negative – rain, fog and a large muddy field and being forced to (try to) run in the cold. I would never have guessed that one day I would do this voluntarily and even pay for the privilege.

I was far from confident going into this race. I didn’t know how well my ankle would hold up for 9km on the trails that had given me so much trouble only two weeks ago. To this end, my leg sported some rather fancy athletic tape to support the joint, but I was prepared for it to be slow going.

I was also concerned because being part of the IRA series, this event attracts real runners – and by that I mean fast.

I might come last.

After much pleading, Kay laughingly promised to personally hold up the finish line if they attempted to dismantle it before I had crossed (another bad memory from my childhood), even though she assured me she was certain this would not be necessary.

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Of course she was right.

Right at the fast I went out too fast

Slow down you idiot!

The course was three laps of undulating trail. I focussed on trying to remain consistent. A lot of people passed me early on and I wasn’t sure how many might still be behind me.

“Just keep running

I really enjoyed the course, enough terrain to keep it interesting, but not so much as to be too difficult and quite a pretty little trail. Unfortunately every lap felt interminable. Lap two was much the same as lap one, except a little slower – let’s call that smarter. I was breathing hard, but felt good. Suddenly people began passing me again, fast. It took a few moments to realise I was being lapped – and I wasn’t even half way around. The initial disappointment soon gave way to amazement, they were so fast.

“I don’t think I could even keep up with them at a sprint” I marvelled.

As I started the third lap, I was definitely tiring, the pretty little hills were growing into mountains and the muscles in my legs were screaming for me to stop. But somehow I knew I could finish. I walked up the steepest hills near the end and then turned towards the finish.

It was still there!

(and Kay wasn’t holding it)

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Thanks Dirk, for taking the picture!

I finished strong, a smile crossed my face. I’m really starting to enjoy this.

And what was that?

56 minutes?

I must have misread that!

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It didn’t feel like a particularly good run. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate what a good run might feel like. I have had so many recent improvements and achievements that I don’t quite know what to expect anymore, but it’s exciting stuff!

Where will the next discovery take me?

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Musings

Building Up Racing Karma

The other week, I spent the day volunteering at our local marathon.

Five hours handing out water to athletes as they ran past.

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Each year I try to volunteer for at least one for every two events in which I participate; sometimes I am left with the dilemma of whether to volunteer or run in a race.

Races don’t go ahead without volunteers. They setup, tear down, direct athletes and man aid stations.

Since I tend to race a lot, I use volunteers a lot.

I’m thankful to each and every one of those volunteers, giving up their weekend to allow me to do something I love. Often they spend longer out on the course than the runners, and at this time of year, that can get cold. Sometimes after a long volunteer shift, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier to have run the race.

A great volunteer can really make your day, they help everything go smoothly and offer encouragement. Yes, they cheer! (some of them dance as well) At some races they are the only ones doing that. I know it always gives me a bit of a buzz to hear someone cheering for me, even if we have never met, and very probably never will.

I always try to thank volunteers on the course, though honestly, oftentimes all I can mange is an exhausted smile and nod. I hope they get the message.

This year, since I was unable to run, I had lots of opportunity for karma building.

Here’s my top five reasons to volunteer:

it, sometimes it just makes me feel totally inadequate as well.

1. To give back.

Yeah, you can’t beat that warm fuzzy feeling of helping in your community!

I choose to be a part of an athletic community, so I should be a part of sustaining it. If no-one volunteers, I can’t race either, so I help out so others can race.

Pay it forward.

 

2. Get Inspired.

How can you not feel good watching 5 year olds going all out in their first triathlon?

Or seeing people achieve goals that they thought impossible?

 

Ok, I admit that the guy who consistently finishes first on a local cross country course, in half the time I do, pushing his daughter in a stroller, does make me feel rather inadequate.

And volunteering at Challenge Penticton, not long after signing up for Ironman, both inspired and terrified me in equal measures!

But on the whole I leave motivated to achieve new things. Every time.

 

3. Spending time with friends.

Or meet some brand new ones!

It’s great to spend time with friends when you aren’t both running as fast as you can during a hard workout.

Volunteering on the course also leaves you perfectly positioned to give a few words of encouragement to friends competing that day, this was the highlight of my day at Challenge Penticton.

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Karis and I volunteering at the Apple Tri

 

4. Check out the race.

Volunteering offers a great opportunity to check out a new race or course.

Before entering my first triathlon, I volunteered at the event, I got involved and decide that, yes, this was something I wanted to try.

Try it today – you might never look back, like me!

 

5. Swag.

Some races give out volunteer swag, draw prizes or appreciation events.

Ok, so it’s not really an altruistic reason to volunteer, but if it gets people out of the door and makes them feel appreciated, then it can’t be that bad.

Sometimes, they even feed you! When I was a penniless student, volunteer meals got me through many a weekend.

 

…And if you are in need of another garishly coloured T-shirt to add to your collection, this is the place to be!

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So, get out there and build up some running karma. Hope to see you out there soon.!

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