Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer trip – part 2

The plan was to leave the Okanagan and head off on a short camping trip at one of our favorite provincial campsites: Kettle River. We had to make sure we hit a few more wineries during the trip too of course. On the way east we stopped at Platinum Bench Winery, bought a few bottles and some of their delicious bread. (We’d been there before and really liked their wines. We still do.) And then on a bit of a whim went by Le Vieux Pin. They are one of the sponsors of the Axel Merckx Granfondo race; they made a special wine for the race and are the official lunch stop for riders on the granfondo who want/need a bit of a break. Husband had stopped there briefly during his ride, but had no strong feelings about going for a tasting. We got there and they were busy, not packed, but they didn’t seem to have space/time for more people. But the staff there were great. They were very attentive to us and another group that arrived at the same time despite not having room at the counter. And their wines are fantastic. Neither of us were huge fans of the special race wine they did, but their other wines were well worth the visit. We left with a few bottles. If we were still drinking wine like we used to (as in, before the boy) I might have pushed to sign up for their wine club, but we just drink too little nowadays to keep up with more than one wine club. (I’ll get back to that later.) If you like wine, I’d highly recommend a stop there. (Since this isn't my - basically now dead - food and wine blog, I won't go into any tasting details here.)

Then we were off to Kettle River for a few days of camping. The weather was great, no rain, not too hot. The highlights of the trip were getting a bit of a wasp sting on my tongue and getting in a trail run. Since my oly race I hadn’t been doing much. One day of commute-biking and a short hill workout in Naramata. But it was time to start moving again (especially given the fact that I was registered for a trail race a few days after we were scheduled to get back home), and I was looking forward to spending some time on the Trans Canada Trail – it runs right through the campsite. I got in a nice slow 15 km run, which was about 10 minutes past enjoyable. Some pictures taken on my run:

As for the wasp sting, well, just a friendly reminder to check your cans before drinking when there are wasps around. I was enjoying a nice post-run beverage, and left my beer unsupervised for a few moments. When I returned to it and took a sip I ended up with a not-too-happy wasp in my mouth. I knew what was happening pretty quickly and spat it out before it did too much damage. It stung a little, but didn’t swell up too much. It was mostly a graze with the stinger I think, and since I know I’m not allergic, I wasn’t too worried.

On the way home a few days later we stopped at 2 more wineries I highly recommend: Orofino and Clos du Soleil. They’re in a lesser known wine region in BC that is well worth a bit of a detour: the Similkameen Valley. We’d been to Orofino before (and planned on signing up for their wine club, which we did), but Clos du Soleil was new to us. We picked up a few bottles at each. Now we just have to have some friends over for a few (or more) dinners to ‘get rid of’ all the wine we brought back. With both of us taking our health and athletic activities more seriously (as well as getting older), we go through our wine stocks much more slowly than we used to.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Axel Merckx Granfondo 2015 Trip

We love the Okanagan region of British Columbia, and try to get in at least a little bit of time there every summer. Before we had our son, this usually meant trips to wineries and restaurants as well as camping, but more recently, it has mostly been camping, with a few stolen moments at a winery or two while the little guy gets in some ipad time. This year’s trip was a little different; it was focused on a race - the Granfondo Axel Merckx.

My husband was the person in the family who first got into cycling, and it was his influence that led me to buy my own road bike. I wasn’t as enamored with two wheels as he was, nor was I ready to give up on running, so I went the tri route. Racing for me is a way to ensure that training actually happens. But he had no desire to race. Criteriums with old-guy weekend warriors are insanity for a person who makes their living with their head (and has a young child to be a father to). And we’d heard about enough crashes on the local Granfondo course that he didn’t want to do a fondo either. But for some reason this past winter he changed his mind (I suspect that like me, he’s more likely to put in the training efforts if there’s a race to look forward to), and decided he was going to race the Granfondo Axel Merckx in Penticton. So he signed up, and when registration for the Piccolo Fondo (the kids’ race) opened, our little guy got signed up too.

I won’t give you the play-by-play on our whole trip to the area, nor will I write much about husband's race (he likely will do that on his own blog), but I will note a few highlights (and low-lights), places worth going (or not) if you happen to hit the area yourself.

We headed into Penticton on Friday afternoon in time to drop our stuff off at the place we were staying (a private rental on the Naramata Bench) and get back to the race expo/registration site.

Our view for the weekend.

Husband got his package and set off to see what he could spend his money on. I headed for the bouncy castle with the boy. (Yes, they had a bouncy castle set up at the expo – pure brilliance.) I’ve never bought anything at a race expo before, but even I bought something at this one – my first pair of bib shorts. Husband purchased some nutrition stuff, and headed into the racers’ briefing. He found it very useful, and so was glad we left early enough to get into town in time for it. He wanted pasta for dinner so we headed off in search of some, and happened across the Pasta Factory. It was awful. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say, we won’t go back. Luckily we found the local Safeway later and got a few things to eat to tide us over until the next day.

The next morning we stopped by The Bench Market for breakfast, a place we always go when in town. It’s a great place for very casual small meals, take out, coffees, local specialty grocery items, things of that nature. Then it was off in search of some new tires for Husband. (There was a decent chance of rain on the Sunday, and he wanted to have his other bike prepped and ready just in case.) The details of this search could fill a page, but I won’t bore you with them. Eventually he found what he was looking for (thanks to the Trek guy at the expo). Back to the condo for some lunch, to pick up the boy’s bike for his race later in the day, and to sneak in a quick hill running session.

Off to the race area for the Piccolo Fondo. It was craziness. Loads and loads of kids, all riding around on their bikes, bubbling over with excitement, barely managing not to end up in crashes. And this was just the waiting around time! The actual races were great! They raced in age groups, with the youngest kids going first. Axel Merckx led each race, so the kids were trying to catch him. Riders who were part of his development club accompanied the kids, so even the child at the end of their race was not alone. There was so much joy on the faces of most of the racers it was so much fun to watch. My son was in the 6-7 year old race which was won by a very fast girl (who seemed to be at the end of 7). It became very clear to us during the race that he needs a new bike. He turned his tiny cranks as fast as he could, but they’re so short he couldn’t go very fast. Anyway, he had fun, and is excited by the prospect of a new bike, this one with hand brakes and he is insisting on gears as well. After the race it was time for some more bouncy castle fun, this time outside at the race site.

Smiles at the start.

Second lap almost done!

I have no idea how they managed to make that many waves with that many kids seem so organized, but it all seemed to run pretty smoothly, and I thought having AM there to start each of the kids’ races was a really nice touch. From my perspective as a parent it was nice to have a day that seemed to be about the kids. It wasn’t just the races; there were also some activities in the park for the kids. My son certainly had it in his head that we were in Penticton for 2 races, his and his dad’s, and that Saturday was all about him. The set up and organization on the Saturday really reinforced this. Partly this meant that he was a bit crazy in the morning (busting with excitement) but it also meant that he was quite happy to have Sunday be about his dad. It was a real family sort of race weekend, at least, it could be if you wanted it to be.

On the way back to where we were staying we hit La Frenz winery, one of husband’s local favorites, tasted a few wines and bought a few bottles. Later, we were about to head into a different winery for dinner when some friends who were in town for the race too called us on their way to the Bad Tattoo Brewing Company, so we changed plans and joined them there. My son thought this was great. I had noted that they make their own root beer the previous day, and he had been promised some if we went there during our visit. He’s never had pop before, at least, that I know of, so this was a grand treat from his perspective. Warning, it doesn’t taste like most root beer (the server warned us about this), but since he had nothing to compare it to, he didn’t notice. Their pizza was great, we all had radlers (which it seems they make to order) and plenty of water to drink. We left much more satisfied with dinner than we had the evening previous.

The next day we all got up very early and headed off to dad’s race. Parking was a ways away from race venue (start and finish and activities area) but that was fine, since me and the little guy had a few hours to burn. We got to see the racers all heading out of town, which was fun. We rang our cowbells and looked for the people we knew in the race. Got to see Husband go past, as well as our two friends who were also riding. We eventually got to cross the street, and headed off in search of coffee. The local Starbucks near the finish line was open, so we hung out there for a bit, mostly playing some games I’d brought along to entertain the 6 year old. While we were there the winners of the Corto Fondo raced past. Man they were fast. And young. But mostly fast. Eventually we made our way into the park that was the race area. There was a bouncy castle there, waiting to be set up, but it didn’t get blown up until the afternoon. (If I could make one recommendation to the organizers, it would be to get the kid’s activities up and running earlier on the Sunday. People who come in from out of town for the race often have to all come to the race together, and the rest of the family needs things to do from the start of the race, not just after 10 am.) But once it was up and running, we spent some time there, as well as a stint on the climbing wall.

While the boy was up on the climbing wall the first Granfondo finishers came through. It was very cool to see how fast that group was moving. We eventually made our way to the stands to sit and try and watch husband/dad finish. (We know we had a bit of time from when the first finishers crossed.) We cheered a bit, played swordfighting with the noisemakers, cheered some more, rang our cowbells. I saw husband finish (thanks to a friend, who’d already finished her race, who spotted him as he was coming up by the stands). He was exhausted, but really enjoyed his day. He was at the faster end of his predicted finishing window and is already plotting how to improve next year.

I had a great time spectating, the atmosphere was fun, and it was actually pretty easy to spend the day there was the 6 year old (who is not a sit around kind of kid). But I have to admit that I was a bit jealous of the riders. It looked like a great day. The whole event weekend was really well run, and we plan to be back next year if we can. But this time, if we can figure out what to do with the boy on Sunday, all three of us will ride.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Subaru Vancouver Triathlon Photos

I could wait until I look great in my race photos to post some, but that's not going to happen. This is what a real 45 year old triathlete who mostly does things other than triathlon looks like. Or at least, that's what this 45 year old triathlete who mostly does things other than triathlon looks like.

Exiting the swim with a smoky haze in the background.

Almost at the top of the hill - for the second (and last) time.

Start of the run.
Near the end of the first lap. (I think.)

Hitting the soft sand in the finish chute. I love this photo. I look totally goofy, but the sand is flying and I'm pretty sure I'm in the middle of saying 'WTF!"

Race Report: Subaru Vancouver Triathlon – Standard (Oly) distance - 21:05 faster than last year!

Overall time: 2:59:42; Swim: 38:32; T1: 3:08; Bike: 1:23:03; T2: 2:16; Run: 52:43; Age group (F 45-49) 7/13; Gender 67/130; Overall 274/403

This was a race rematch. Not between me and someone else, but between me and this race. I did this same race last year as my first (and until now) only standard distance triathlon; I did not love it, it did not go well, I was relieved to just finish. Because of that, it was supposed to be my goal race this year. But due to injuries and work and saddle issues (which are thankfully now solved), I have not been training like I needed to for this distance. Last year I learned that I had not been training to the right fitness level for the longer distance, and I had plans to change that, but those plans didn’t really work out. (Not making excuses, just explaining.) But mentally I was ready this time around. I knew it was going to hurt, and I knew I could finish. So I adjusted my goal of having a great race to maybe taking about 3 minutes or so off of my time. I thought I had done it in a little over 3:18 last year, and so was aiming for 3:15. My plan was to swim a bit straighter, improve my transitions, and hopefully run faster (my run last year was slow, even for me). But I don’t wear a watch while swimming or riding when racing (I do have a cyclocomputer, but don’t like to look at that for time either, just for pace), only while running, so I wasn’t going to know how I did until the end of the race. (I don’t race by time, as I am much less likely to push myself hard if my time seems good, and so can end up with a race time that isn't as fast as it could be.)

So that’s the background. How about the race?

Got to the race venue at just before 6:30 in a car2go (left the parking pass we got with our registration for DH so he could come down later), with plenty of time for my 7:42 start. Got my numbers put on by someone from the SBM facebook group Tri-Fecta I’d met 2 days before. (She was visiting Vancouver for the WWC, and wanted to get in a few training sessions while here. We went for a nice 8-9 kms in Pacific Spirit Park. She’s a bit slower than me and we chatted the whole way, so I had to go easy, which made it a perfect shake-out-the-legs pre-race run. She had a pretty bad tumble near the end, which was awful and I felt really bad about. But apparently, she went for a bike ride the next day, so it wasn’t quite as bad as it looked. But this is how cool she is: I mentioned the race to her while she was figuring out things to do here in Van, and she signed up as a volunteer! So I let a few people behind me in line go in front of my so I could get marked up by her.)

Went off to transition where I met someone else I know from social media (this time twitter), @englishbayally. We’ve crossed paths at a few races before, but had never managed to meet. This time we were racked within 4 bikes of each other (and I’d figured out her bib number beforehand, so I knew I could figure out who she was despite not really knowing what she looked like). It was really fun getting set up and chatting. I needed to pump my tires, but hate doing it (I have real trouble doing it – I can, but it takes a long time). The woman next to me perceived my distress and had her tire-pumper do mine too, which was really nice. Most people in the tri community really are helpful and supportive, and I had a lot of reminders of that this week.

Swim: Eventually I put on my wetsuit and popped 2 shot blocks, and headed down to the beach for the swim start. I hadn’t realized what time it was, so by the time I got down to the beach athletes were being called out of the water so they could get the race started on time. That meant no warm up for me, which was not good. I needed to get in and feel the water temp, especially on my face. So I prepared myself for a slower start to the swim than I had planned, as my acclimatization time would now come at the start of the race swim. I had been aiming to swim a little faster this year, and knew that this would interfere with that goal, but that’s how things go sometimes. At least I’ve done this enough times to know what I need to do at the start to make the swim bearable. My sighting had improved over last year, so I did go straighter. Notice I didn’t say straight, just straighter. It was choppy, and the current was stronger than last year, but I was better at adjusting for it because I was prepared for it. What I wasn’t prepared for was the smoke. Driving to the race venue I was driving into what had looked like dark grey cloud. It quickly became clear, however, that it wasn’t rain clouds, it was smoke clouds from near-by forest fires. At the time the race started you couldn’t smell the smoke from the beach (that later changed) but you could out on the water. Rounding the first buoy it hit me, hard. I was just about choking from the combination of the effort and the smoke. I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but I was having asthma symptoms. I flipped over onto my back for a bit, but it didn’t really improve my breathing at all (because it wasn’t about the swimming). I thought of abandoning the race for a brief bit of time. As I got closer to shore, and so farther from the smoke, my breathing improved and I was able to flip back onto my front, and felt strong enough to finish the swim (as in, finish that lap and do another one). Same thing happened on the second lap of the course. Hit the buoy, and with it the smoke, and pretty soon I couldn’t get enough air. Add to this the current that occasionally had you swimming just to stay in place (as in, you weren’t moving forward, but sure would have been going backwards if you stopped) and the swim was pretty challenging for me. I got passed a lot, but I also passed a few swim caps from the group that started ahead of mine, so I was mentally OK after the swim. And to my surprise, my swim was still faster than last year, so staying calm and just getting it done without worrying about speed worked out.

T1: I usually run to transition from the swim, but found it hard to do so this time, so my T1 time was not going to be as fast as I wanted. And I found myself very dizzy. So I took a few deep breaths and slowed down a bit and took the time I needed to get in and out of T1 with everything I needed, including a gel. (It was the new(ish?) GU chocolate peanut butter if I recall correctly. I highly recommend that flavor.) Being organized in T1 is such a big deal. Have everything ready and don’t give yourself choices. Even though I had to slow down and literally catch my breath (stood holding onto the bike rack for a bit), I was faster than last year by a little under a minute and a half. Ran my bike over the mount line, hopped on, and I was off on the bike leg.

Bike: I know the bike course well. I rode it a lot last year, but this year hadn't been out on it so much (because of saddle issues). In fact, I had been up the early hill only twice, when I rode the course the Monday prior to the race to reacquaint myself with it. Incidentally, that was the only time I’d ridden more than 20 km this year before this race. (As I said, I was not as well trained as I should have been…) But I had done it, so I knew I could do it again. I just didn’t know how fast. The day before I had thought that I had taken about 1:40 on the bike last year and figured 1:35 might be doable this year. But then I looked back at my times and discovered the bike leg had taken me 1:33.12 last year, a time I was pretty sure I couldn’t improve on. But I resolved to go as hard as I could without totally destroying my legs. I passed 7 women on the bike and got passed by 2. I didn’t count the number of men who passed me, or the number of men I passed (there were a few). It is both good and bad to race on a course that’s so familiar. One the one hand, I know all the twists and turns, although not the bumps in the road, since I ride on the shoulder/side of the lane, and we were riding in the road, and sometimes even unable to ride on the more familiar shoulder. Where this really helped was on the downhill, as I could confidently zoom down (I hit 60 km at one point on the second descent for the first time ever and didn’t freak out!). On the other hand, it’s easy to settle into a slower familiar training rhythm and stop pushing hard. (It was weird to be racing past my office.) Anyway, it went well. I was getting tired legs by the end, and knew the run would hurt, but when I changed the readout on my cyclocomputer near the end I saw a much faster shorter time than I had anticipated, somewhere at the end of 1:22! So I kept on peddling as fast as I could, and ended up beating my bike time from last year by a smidgeon over 10 minutes!

T2: Went fine. Not sure why it was slower than last year, but it was. Maybe it was getting the barrette into my hair? It’s longer than last year and wearing anything to keep it off of my face is uncomfortable on the swim and bike portions. I keep a barrette clipped to my race belt so I don’t have to fumble with finding it, just with getting it into my hair. I did have to move a bike out of the way a bit so I could fit mine in, but I had the same problem only worse last year, so I don’t think that was it. Anyway, it was only slower by 24 seconds so I’m not going to get too worked up about it.

The run: They changed the run route this year. Last year it headed off into the forest for a bit, before heading out on the flat gravely trail in the blazing sun. This year it was 2 loops on the flat gravely trail in the blazing sun. It used to have a hill, so the flat part is better, but it also used to have shade and wasn’t all on lose ground which is slower to run on. I don’t mind running hills, so I prefer the old course. Thankfully, due to the smoke cloud cover it wasn’t as sunny and hot as it was supposed to be. But of course, that also meant we were breathing in smoky air. More on that later. I popped a GU as I ran out of transition, and grabbed a bit of water at the first aid station that was not too far from the run start. My stride was short and choppy, but my legs didn’t feel too tight, just tired. Part of not being too tight though was that they never really loosened up. For some reason I was thinking that it was a 10 km loop (that we did twice, I know, if I thought about it for half a second I would have realized) and so was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I got to the turnaround. I was tired but knew that I was ¼ of the way through the run. According to my watch I was making decent time and was likely to break 1:00 for the run if I kept my pace up. (That had been my goal the previous year that I had failed to make, so it seemed like a good one to have this year.) I just tried to keep up my cadence, and used my hips to move my legs. I’d feel myself slouching and I’d straighten back up and concentrate on form. Reached the turn around and headed back out on the second loop. This one seemed much longer, but I just kept reminding myself that I had less than 5 km to run and 5 kms is easy. (I didn’t think about 5 km ‘left’, that just makes me tired because I think of what I’ve already done. One of the interesting things about triathlon for me has been figuring out what mental triggers I have and what mental tricks I can use on myself.)

I had been keeping pace with a woman with 47 on her leg for most for most of the second loop of the run. I was trying to just hang on, and maybe spring past her at the end, but I got a bit of a cramp in my knee about 1.5 kms away from the finish, and she got away from me. I managed to reel her back in a bit but eventually fell too far back again. (Turns out she was in the sprint, so I wasn’t actually racing her, and so I don't feel as bad about not being able to keep up as I did then and there.) I passed the last aid station and turned the corner into the home stretch. Saw my husband and son there waiting and waving. People pointed to the turn and I turned too soon; I just about ran back into transition again instead of the finish chute but I quickly recovered thanks to more enthusiastic yelling from the spectators.

I lost my momentum, but turns out that didn't really matter. I usually reserve or find an extra little bit of energy for a fast push at the end to cross the finish line. That was impossible here. The new finish was brutal! It was in soft deep lose sand. There was absolutely no sprinting going on at that finish line for anyone. The finisher pics taken just short of the finish line tell the tale: a whole lot of people with looks of surprise, grimaces, etc. I think I'm swearing in mine. Instead of going fast I was just concentrating hard on just moving my feet as much as possible. I had seen the clock on the finish line and it said 10:41 something or other. My swim wave started at 7:42. That meant I could possibly finish in under 3 hours!!! I had never ever had any goals, even the idealistic if everything goes perfectly and I suddenly turn into a super hero kind, to beat 3:00. But I was so close. So I willed my legs through that sand pit as fast as possible, and hoped I’d made it. I did! I did the 10 km in 52:43! I would have been happy with that time in a straight 10 km race, let alone at the end of a triathlon. I was super pumped.

And I couldn’t breathe. Or more correctly, I could breathe, but I didn’t feel like I was getting any oxygen. I wasn’t hyperventilating, I knew what that felt like. I figured this might be an episode of exercise induced asthma, possibly caused in part by the forest fire smoke. I was still and got it under control. I grabbed a bit to eat, bumped into my twitter friend, congratulated each other, had a photo taken, then I set off looking for my family. That meant walking in the soft sand again which was enough exertion to set off the breathing problem again. They weren’t where they had been, so I went back to transition to grab my phone so we could meet up. Found them (or they found me) near transition. Husband was going to go in to grab my gear for me (because I was having trouble) but my bag was nowhere near my bike and I couldn’t explain where it was. So I sucked it up and went and slowly got packed up, met up again outside of transition. He took my bike for me and I walked slowly to the car. Eventually I was fine, but I’m going to chat with my doctor about this. It might just have been the smoke, but it might still be worthwhile making sure I have a puffer in case it happens again. I think if I hadn’t been so happy about my time I might have been more freaked out. But I wasn’t. I knew I was going to be OK. I just wanted to get home, have a shower, and eventually some lunch and a beer.

I am really happy with how it went. It wasn’t perfect, there’s room for improvement, but all in all, I’m happy. Other than the breathing difficulty I felt pretty good at the end, mentally and physically. I was just over 20 minutes faster overall than last year. I was 1:44 faster in the swim, 10:09 faster on the bike, and 8:13 faster on the run. I improved in all three disciplines. And I beat a lot of women who are much younger than me. All of this feels really good. I did not podium like in the last race, but I knew that I wouldn’t. Oly races are a different beast, and they attract a lot of very fit very fast women, especially older women. I will never podium in a standard distance race and that’s OK. (I was 10 minutes slower than the next woman up from me in my age group, so trying a little harder here or there wouldn’t have made a difference to my placement.) I raced my race, against the course and myself, and as far as I’m concerned, this time I won.