Friday, May 29, 2015

#trigiving - a challenge for myself, and to you

This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing for a long time. Now that I’m starting to commit to my races for the year, it seemed like the right time. It’s a post about triathlon, triathletes, and our place in the broader community.

I live on the edge of one of the poorest communities in Canada, the infamous DTES (Downtown Eastside) of Vancouver. My immediate neighborhood is not the same, but it is a mix of professional families like mine who buy here and low income people who rent. I see a lot of need on a regular basis, and I was having trouble reconciling what I see around me with the money I spend on sport, the money we triathletes all spend on sport. This led me to an idea – what if every time I raced I donated – which led me to ask - what if every time we all race we donate? Imagine the difference we could make in the communities we live in, the communities we race in. It could be huge.

So last year I committed to do it. And now I’m challenging others to commit to the same thing. Whenever you compete donate something to a local charity or organization. Local can mean where you race, where you live, or some larger community that you belong to and care about improving. My causes are kids, local poverty, and sometimes their intersection, but you might care most about girls in sport, bicycles for the poor overseas, trans youth, your local animal shelter, trail creation and maintenance, or something else entirely. What the cause is isn’t important, just that it’s something that’s important to you. There’s lot of good causes out there that can use our dollars and or time.

I know not all triathletes have loads of spare cash lying around, but I’m sure we can all find things to give away, or time we can give to someone. Donate used shoes or sports equipment, give away your children’s old clothes or toys instead of selling them, volunteer for a local race, or to sit for a friend who wants to get out but can’t afford child care. There are all sorts of ways we can give, not just money.

I’m committing to donating with every race, and I will post a link to the organizations I’ve donated to starting with last years’ donations. This isn’t to draw attention to myself, it’s to draw attention to the organizations and their work. (Disclaimer: I’m not vouching for any of them, I’m just saying I’ve donated to them.) If you join in the challenge and set up your own organizations-donated-to-page, I’ll happily link it up with mine, so you can get more attention for your chosen causes too. I’m copying much of this text to a permanent page, not just this post, and that’s where I’ll put any links. Just comment with a link to your page and I’ll put in on the permanent page.

Let’s help make a difference, and show the world that triathletes care. #trigiving

Monday, May 25, 2015

Shawnigan Lake Triathlon 2015 Race Report (with photos)

As usual, this is long. Scroll down if you just want to see the pictures.

What a difference a year makes! I just competed in the Shawnigan Lake Sprint Triathlon, the first race in the Subaru Western CanadaSeries. I did this same race last year, and let’s just say I didn’t love it. It was cold, it was wet, and it just felt really hard all around. There were highlights, but my memory of the race was not one that made me rush to sign up again. But I did (sign up again) because my BIL was going to do it again, and it’s fun racing with him. That and it’s really an excuse to visit him and his family – they live 30 minutes away – and I love hanging out with my BIL and SIL and my son loves seeing his cousins. As it turns out, my BIL was injured and so didn’t sign up (although he’s better now). So I was stuck in a race I didn’t really want to do. I wasn’t going to not go – my kid would never have forgiven me for not going to visit.

I’m glad I didn’t bail. I had a really enjoyable race. For starters, the water was way warmer than last year. The swim was longer this year – 750 meters instead of 500 – and I felt it. The distance itself wasn’t the issue, it was swimming that in a wetsuit, which I find really tiring even though my wetsuit is very flexible at the shoulder relatively speaking. Anyway, I went out with the intention to swim at a comfortable pace so as to not exit the water exhausted, and I accomplished my goal. I was pretty slow, but wasn’t exhausted when I got out. The one thing I didn’t like about the swim was the ordering. I seem to recall, but could be wrong, that the high schoolers started before the women last year. This year they definitely started after us, and for me, that pretty much guaranteed getting run over. It wasn’t too bad. I did better at placing myself within my own group this year, and so avoided most of the start-line issues. A few high schoolers went past/over me sometime after the first turn, but not as many as I anticipated. It helped that I expected it I think.

T1 went fine. Had a little difficulty getting going on my bike. There was someone taking her time getting on hers right in the middle of the lane just after the mount line and there were standard distance athletes just to the left of the start lane so I couldn’t really go around her easily. This got me a bit flustered so I had trouble clipping in once I was in the saddle. But this cost me a few seconds at most. As someone who’s not vying for a podium spot, I see no reason to get upset about people’s inexperience costing me a few seconds. I hope she got on and had a good ride. (Not saying being more competitive is a good reason to be a jerk, just that it puts people in a different frame of mind.)

The bike course is tough, mostly  because it’s constantly up and down, with no relief. You're always shifting. You really have to be on your game mentally. The hills are mostly small, it's just that it's relentless. I passed a few people, not too many, and didn’t get passed by too many either. I tended to pass people on the uphills, and get passed by them on the downhill/flats, even though I was going downhill much better than in the past. I’ve gained a lot of confidence on the bike recently, which is nice. I still have saddle issues that I hope to sort out soon, but all in all, I’ve been having fun riding. I forgot my cyclocomputer at home, and didn’t realize it until we were on the ferry – too late to do anything about it. So I had to ride by feel. Or rather, go as hard as I could muster while at the same time trying to not do too much and ruin my legs for the run. I probably could have gone a little harder, but it was a good ride all in all, and I’m feeling positive about the bike leg for my big tri in July for the first time ever. The one big hill was shorter (and easier) than I remembered it being – I was half way up before I realized that this was ‘the hill’ I was dreading. Didn’t drink too much (I have a habit of over hydrating), and sucked on a Clif Shot Blok for much of the ride.

Transition action shots courtesy of my husband. Also a way to show off my fancy wheel set.

 T2 went fine. Started the run with the legs feeling better than they had the year before. That said, it’s still really mean to pretty much start a triathlon run with an uphill trail portion! Uphill’s bad enough, but you have to be careful in a trail, there’s roots and things that have to be avoided. It’s hard when your legs are like lead. That section didn’t last long, but there is more up than down on the out part of the out and back course. It’s not clear whether it’s really slightly uphill or just one’s post-bike legs talking until you head back and benefit from the downhill. My legs started to loosen up at about 3 km, which is too long to run really well in a sprint, but was good enough to fly (or at least, feel like I was flying) for the last km. I knew that I had been running much too slow for the first 2 kms. I took the pre-pre-race-meeting talk a little too literally I think. The speaker told/reminded people to worry more about their cadence than their stride at the beginning of the run. I’m good with cadence, I need to push my stride at that point, but I didn’t. Oh well, next race I’ll implement my plan not someone else’s. But I did pick up the pace at the end. I ran down the chute, collected my finisher’s medal, and realized I’d forgotten to stop my watch, so I had no idea how long the run had taken me.

I didn’t really have the usual ‘why am I doing this?’ feeling at any point during the race. I felt really good when it ended, which suggests to me I could have pushed harder – I left gas in the tank. I’ll know better for my next race, which is the one I really care about. This was a way to get out the kinks, and luckily, I had fun doing so. I hadn't done as much training prior to the race as I had planned due to a toe injury I sustained in late December that had me pretty much laid up for 2 months. So I had low expectations, which means, no pressure. I think I need to race this way more often, because as you can see in this photo, I really enjoyed the race.

See how much fun I was having!

The only real hitch (other than forgetting my cyclocomputer) was a strange finger thing that happened while I was on the run. About 3.5 km in I felt a sharp sudden pain in my pinky finger and it started to swell. I hadn’t hit it or bumped it, and I hadn’t been stung. It eventually looked like I’d popped some blood vessels. My knuckles turned purplish and I couldn’t really use the finger. I got some ice from the med tent and iced it for about 20 minutes. By the next day it looked even worse, but hurt less. There was no real reason as far as I could tell, but I wasn’t concerned about it at all. After speaking (well, facebooking) with a wise and talented doctor I know well I am satisfied that I am right not to be concerned (as in, it’s nothing to worry about).

But I kind of forgot about my finger when I checked the results one last time to see if they had finally posted my time. I had placed 3rd in my age group! (So what if there were only 5 of us.) I was 3rd! Aging up this year wasn’t so bad after all. My times and places by category are below. Note that I’m reporting numbers based on total finishers, so the official web page with results lists the ‘out of’ as a higher number than I do (e.g., they list 9 women in my AG, but only 5 actually finished, so that’s what I list).

Total Time:1:39:13     Swim: 18:45    T1: 2:34    Bike: 48:17    T2: 1:39   Run: 27:58
AG place      3/5                  3/5                                  3/5                                    2/5
Gender place 30/56          41/56                            32/56                                  30/56
Overall place 70/113        84/113                           76/113                                 68/113

Yes, my AG was small. But my time would have put me in 5th in the younger age group (out of 12, or rather, 13, since I would have been one more) which is way better than I did in that age group last year (7/10). My swim was a little slower (pace wise, it was always going to take me longer than last year because it was 50% longer in distance than last year), my bike was just over 2 mins faster, and my run was 27 secs slower. My transitions were clearly a lot faster than last year. (An advert for working on transitions, except that I don’t.) My swim and run together added up to 7:10 more than last year. My bike was 2:02 faster, so all in all, I should have been 5:08 slower than last year. But I was only 3:17 slower, so I shaved 3:26 off of my transition times! I can easily improve my swim time (by just doing some actual swimming...) my run will get better as I do more intervals and hills, and my cycling will get better too, now that I actually enjoy it. So even though I don't expect I'll be lucky enough to place again, I'm feeling like this bodes well for a good summer of racing for me.


Odds and ends: My husband was there to support me. It’s not a good race for spectators, so I didn’t see him until I was running towards the finish line. But he was there, with his phone out getting some photos. And smiling. He hates crowds, doesn’t like the loud music, and generally is not much of a fan of triathlons. But he is super supportive of my efforts, even though on this day it meant getting up super early with me, and I appreciate that. I couldn’t train as much as I do without him. And of course there’s my fancy shmancy wheel set he got me for Christmas. It was the first time I’d raced on them and I love them!

It was nice to see some ‘designer gear’ up north. There were two other people wearing Smashfest Queen gear that I could see, another woman in the sprint and a man racing the standard. There were also several people wearing Betty Designs gear, including two women on Team Betty, one of whom was racked right next to me and came in second in my age group. Friendly competition. (Full disclosure, although I love my Smashfest Queen tri suits, I have a Betty Designs swim suit.)

I also got to meet two women from the SBM facebook group Tri-fecta. This picture of us is my favorite one from the whole day. We’re just three women who love triathlon, who don't race for the glory, just for the fun and the personal triumph, and it shows in our smiles. This was taken before I’d found out about placing in my AG, so the smile is just about having a great morning. Which, as it happens, got even better.

Me and the other SBMers.

One last thing. I got my hands on a few 5Q tattoos and proudly wore one at the race. As I was removing my bike from transition at the end of the day the transition captain saw it and asked what 5Q meant.  I replied "50 women to Kona" and he chuckled a little (this was an Ironman owned race after all) and said something like 'clever' in an approving way. I didn't have to explain to him what '50 women to Kona" meant, but the tattoo made him think about it. Job done.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

5 Peaks BC Race 1 - Golden Ears Race Report

Warning: although this is officially a race report, I don’t write succinct race reports. I ramble, go off topic, and generally use them as a bit of ‘get-to-know-me’.

I had mentioned doing a trail race in my plans for 2015, but had been thinking about doing something later in the summer after my goal race (the Subaru Vancouver Triathlon) was over: I was scared of injuring myself on the trails and not being able to do my triathlons, doubly so given the length of time my toe injury had me sidelined this winter. But plans change. In this case, an opportunity fell in my lap; I won an entry to the 5 Peaks Golden Ears race in April by retweeting a tweet from one of the race organizers (@SolanaLeigh). It was totally unexpected, but something I didn’t want to pass up. I do my long runs on Saturdays, so I figured I’d just treat this as a shorter but harder long training run with inspiring scenery. I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle the Enduro distance, so I opted for the shorter Sport course. Listed at 8.8 km, it seemed doable given my current road distance of just over 12 km.

I had to get up earlier than I like to to make to the race venue, but at least it was local and so something I could do from home. My little guy (who just turned 6) normally has activities on Saturday morning, but I mentioned a kids' race to him and he insisted on coming. That meant dragging my husband along. He wasn’t too thrilled about it, but I bribed him by suggesting he bring his road bike and ride home. So, long story short, we left about 15-30 minutes later than I wanted to. I don’t like being stressed by travel the day of a race, especially given that this was supposed to be a just-for-fun race. We got there just in time, but to a parking lot full of racers and a long check-in line. Husband barely got the car parked, kid out of the car and registered for the kids' race. But he did. I had to run off to the car to grab my gear and so missed seeing my son race, but the little guy didn’t mind. Husband ran alongside him so he didn’t feel parentless. He got to show me his finishers’ ribbon just afterwards, which made it all seem official and made him feel very important. For racing he also got a kid’s Clif Bar and lip balm. Not bad for a free race! So despite the rushing around, the day got off to a great start as far as my kid was concerned, and so, as far as I was concerned too.
My race started about 20 minutes later. I positioned myself in about the middle of the pack. I had a friendly chat with some people next to me in the chute. It would have helped me relax if I had been at all nervous. Since this was just supposed to be a slightly challenging training run, I was unusually calm. The only worry I had was getting lost. But given the hundreds of runners around, I was pretty sure I could keep up with at least a few of them, and just follow them. Turns out I didn’t need to be worried about that at all. The course was very well flagged and there were volunteers in places that really needed a person (e.g., a med person near the top of the tough climb). Great job to the organizers!

It was mostly uphill for the first 5 km or so. Most of it was easy enough and in this first part I got passed quite a bit, but I also passed about the same number of runners. There were two stream crossings very early on. I knew there were water crossings and I was ready for wet feet; I was wearing thing fast-drying socks (a benefit of being a triathlete – I have quite a selection of fast-drying socks), and I brought extra shoes and socks to change into. I have trail shoes, but I’ve never gotten them wet and so I didn’t know how well they’d dry. Since I wasn’t thrilled about having wet feet right from the start, I hopped from rock to rock and stayed dry. I rolled on my right ankle a little after about 25 minutes but it was just a brief tweak and the pain didn't last thankfully.

Shortly after 4 km the one really challenging ascent started. It was steep, rocky, a little rooty, and long. I mostly power walked it, although from time to time I ran a bit. I figured if up, then down, and if the down was anything near as rooty/rocky as the up, I was going to need some solid legs to make it safely down. For me, that meant not arriving at the top totally knackered. There was nice little waterfall pool/stream that had to be crossed near the top. I considered stopping to take a picture, but I was feeling pretty good and didn’t want to lose time for a photo. But it was a nice reward for making it up.

I wasn’t wrong about the descent and what I needed to do it well. It was a tough, for me at least. Not sure how technical it was (given that it was my first trail race I’ve got nothing to compare it to), but it required mountain goat-like nimbleness to descend with any real speed. I regularly run in a local park with some (shorter) uneven rocky trails. They’re not as technical, but they at least have me used to running downhill on terrain that requires the same kinds of skills. Part of tackling a trail like that is just being comfortable with the kind of running, so mentally I was in good shape for a descent that required quick, lightfooted movements. I’m not saying I was the fastest person down the trail - I was passed by a few runners – but I passed more than I got passed by. On a bike, downhills are not my strength, but I have learned how to run downhill fairly well. And to tell the truth, it was fun! Not because of passing people, just the doing of it was fun. It was a mental and physical challenge all in one, which is my kind of thing. It got less rocky as the descent continued, making it easy to go even faster.

Until the tree obstacle that is. The fallen tree was a little too low to easily go under and a little too high to easily go over. Jumping was required, meaning my plyometric training really came in handy. The race photographer was positioned right there. I’m looking forward to seeing those photos…mine almost certainly shows a contorted grimacing face, which is too bad because it was actually kind of fun.  From there it was a pretty short run out of the woods, by the lake, up a little incline and across the finish line. My family was at the bottom of the little slope up to the finish so I got to wave at them and that helped spur me on a bit.

The whole thing reminded me of my childhood – running through the forest, wandering up streams, and jumping over fallen logs. I enjoyed the race and I’ll do another. Not sure about this year, it depends on my family schedule. But I’d do this one again for sure. Maybe even the Enduro. I understand the appeal of trail running, it’s more challenging that road racing which is appealing. I’m not about to give up triathlon and take up ultra trail running instead, but I’m really glad I got the opportunity to do this race.

I had a goal of about 1:15-1:20. I figured it might take me about time and half, and anything faster than that was gravy. I have no idea what my official bib time was. By my watch I finished in 57:17, but I wasn’t very exact with starting or stopping it. Still, it was under an hour and I’m really happy with that. When I find out my real time, age group place, etc., I’ll update.* (see the bottom of the page for the update, which is now there.) It was a good use of my training time. I was really wiped for the rest of the day, but was feeling pretty good the following day, so I know I didn't go too hard.
I did want to point out something I noticed that was really great. The organizers had planned to wait until all runners had finished before doing the awards, but they had to get on with the awards while a few runners were still out on the course. Often back-of-the-packers get ignored. But they announced the later runners, and asked people to cheer them across. So the awards stopped when the last runner crossed, and they got applause and encouragement from a lot of people who were still there. I thought that was the way it should be, recognizing the accomplishments of the fastest people while taking the time to acknowledge the accomplishments (and congratulate) the slowest.

The finish line

Spectacular setting!

The little slope up toward the finish
*The race results were posted sometime between my writing this post and the following morning, so here's the update. My official time was 57:16, so apparently I did a pretty good job with my watch. There were 293 participants and an average time of 1:01:17, meaning that I beat the average time! I placed 51st out of 183 women, and 19th out of 53 women in my age category (40-49). I'm very happy with these numbers.