Just What I Needed

I was still feeling super burned out and tired with everything that's been going on lately.  I said to Jason this morning that I need a day off where I don't have to do anything at all.  I said this to him while I was standing next to my bike, holding a water bottle and fully dressed in bike clothes, but I couldn't get motivated to actually swing my leg over the saddle and get going.  So it was decided that I got to do nothing today.

It was just what I needed.  I had a nap with the puppy, wandered through the farmer's market, went with Jason to look at a cool garden shed (do it yourself log kit - sounds super fun) and an RV we wanted to check out.  Then we made a pizza dinner and hung out on the couch.  Super relaxing day with no agenda.

I also changed my race plans a bit.  It's obvious from last weekend that I need to do another short race or two to work out the kinks.  There are a few sprint races in the area in late June, so it's a matter of choosing one or two. 

 The other is a big change... instead of the full Vineman Aquabike (Ironman distance swim/bike of 4 km swim, 180 km bike), I switched my entry to the half Vineman Aquabike (2 km 90 km).  It feels like a bit of a relief as I was feeling a lot of pressure to get out for long rides when I need to be working with my puppy on training.  I also feel like I can get away with 10-12 km a week swimming now, but I didn't think that was enough for the full distance.  So while I was really looking forward to the challenge of the full, I think the half will be a lot of fun, and more reasonable for the time I have to commit this year with everything else that's going on.

So hopefully day was exactly what I needed to get back on track - I have a big training week planned for next week!

Birthday Swim

I have had a tradition for the last five years swim my age (times 100) in meters on my birthday.  Problem with this tradition is it will get harder as I get older!  When I started this (on my 40th), it was a big deal to do the swim (I did 40x100 that year) as I hadn't been swimming much volume.  Last year I was doing some bigger mileage in the pool, so this year's 4400 meters really wasn't much of anything at all because typically on a Saturday I swim at least 4000 anyway.

Here's what I did this morning to celebrate turning 44:

Warm up:
3 x 250m as easy, pull, kick with fins
5 x 50m band only w/ 10 sec rest
100 build

Main set:
400 full gear (band, pull buoy, paddles) steady
5 x 50m tempo on 60 sec
6 x 150m as 100 steady/50 tempo w/ 15 sec rest
5 x 50m fast on 60 sec
400 full gear steady

Cool down:
100 back
5 x 50 band only w/10 sec rest
3 x 250m as kick with fins, pull, easy.

Feel free to join in and do this workout!

Spouting off as I am so apt to do, I promised a friend that the next time my birthday falls on a weekend I'll swim double my age (caveat: I have also said it has to be at an outdoor pool, because I couldn't mentally swim that far indoors).  Unfortunately, when I said this I hadn't looked at a calendar... and turns out next year my birthday is on a Saturday.  So I guess I'm swimming 9 km that day.  Great.  I wonder if I can reserve a lane at the outdoor pool in Victoria so I don't have to deal with the lunch public swim rush (hours are limited there).  Maybe that can be my excuse? :)  Come join me, we'll turn it into a party!

Shawnigan Sprint Race Report: I Ain't Got Game

Well, I "raced" on Sunday.  I put raced in quotation marks as I'm not sure what I was doing resembled anything like racing, but there you go.  I finished a sprint triathlon (I probably should have put sprint in quotation marks as well), but definitely didn't race it.

It's no secret having a puppy is hard work, and a lot of missed sleep.  That's what I'm calling out as the main reason for my poor performance.  Add in a really stressful time at work (people in BC know what I'm talking about... without getting into any politics on this blog but there is a pretty tough situation here between teachers and the government, and being in administration I'm caught in the proverbial middle; and of course add on the craziness that comes with wrapping up one school year), also a crazy non-stop day before the race, and bad weather day-of, and I came up with one lousy performance.  So anyway, here's how the race went.

A measly 500 meters.  I figured I could swim that in 8 minutes based on what I've been doing in training.  Yeah, it was my first wetsuit swim of the year (and no open water since Hawaii in March which is not really comparable to a cold lake), but honestly I didn't think any of that would matter as I've been swimming really well.  I definitely was working hard in the water, but knew that I wasn't getting anywhere by the number of women around me.  I hit the beach at 8:36 on my watch, and the timing mat in transition (why don't they put them at the actual swim exit?) in 9:09.  Yeesh.  Last year I had the fastest swim in my age group by a minute.  This year I did not.  Argh.  Especially disappointing as I have been working hard on my swim and seeing way better times than that in training.  My only consolation is that everyone was slower this year, and I know it's tough to measure a swim course accurately (and any error over 500 m is going to be a big time difference, really).

22 km on a twisty, hilly route around a lake.  I was three minutes slower than last year.  Yeah, it was raining and the technical nature of the course forced everyone to be slower because of the wet roads. But, I'm a good bike handler and didn't really ride conservatively around corners or anything.  Girls I should have been able to ride with just rode away.  The real tell is looking at my power numbers. Despite trying to work hard, I was at the low end of my tempo zone, when my plan for this short event was to push the numbers up closer to lactate threshold.  But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get any higher numbers.  So something's going on - fatigue, mentally not into it, or whatever.  Honestly, that morning I said to Jason that if I hadn't already had to check my bike in the day before, I probably would have bailed on the whole thing.  I ain't got no game today!

I wasn't expecting anything out of my run, as because of knee issues I haven't really been running high volumes or intensity.  So my run was basically the same pace I would have run 5 km in training. I got passed by A LOT of people.  

Eight minutes slower than last year.  For a sprint, that's an eternity.

There were some saving graces.  One, I now know I need to race a few more times before the Vineman Aquabike to shake the cobwebs out.  I'm carefully perusing the local race schedule to see what I can fit in.   Two, my friend Steve King was the race announcer (anyone familiar with the "old" days of Ironman Canada knows who I'm talking about) and it's always great to see him, and I love the "extra" commentary he throws in when I cross the finish line.  Three, the number of complements and "Go Betty!" comments I got on my Betty team kit.  I have yet to do an event wearing Betty gear that I don't get several comments on.

My awesome Betty Designs team tri kit.
Not sure if there are any pics from the actual
race, or if I'd even want to see them!

I am going to carefully study my training log from last year and talk to Jason, and make the adjustments necessary to get in some quality training.  I've had some really good workouts lately, so Sunday was just a blip and I've been telling myself that you can't be faster every single race, right? Right?

Today's Workout Brought To You By The Letter F

"F" as in fried.  Because that's how my legs feel right now.  It's a holiday, so what better way to celebrate a day off work than with a hard workout.  I've done variations on this over the past few years, but here's what today's workout looked like.

1 - Head out on road bike for 45 min warm up ride.  It was a really nice morning, and I quite enjoyed my spin in the sun.

2 - Down to the basement for some interval work on the TT bike on the trainer.  I did 5x (3 min easy spin, 5 min steady endurance pace, 6 min tempo, 1 min threshold).  Now that I have a power meter it makes it easy to hit those paces and know I'm doing it correctly.

3 - Run off the bike, only 15 min but tempo pace.  I wore my Hokas, shoes that make me go "meh".  More on that another time.

4 - Back on to the road bike for a 45 min cool down spin.  Jason came with me for this one, and we started off in some light rain (it's pretty much guaranteed to rain here on Victoria Day.  Every year.) but finished up in the sun.

The total was only three hours, but my legs are pretty fried.  I am racing Sunday in a sprint race, and was planning to do something similar again on Saturday.  We'll see how I feel tomorrow before I commit to that plan.  But it's not like I would taper for a sprint race that's just for fun, after all my main sight is on Vineman Aquabike in July.  So with that in mind, I have a few hard swims planned for this week as well, along with more tempo work on the trainer.

Questions and Answers

Here are some questions I got from Abby's blog, Change of Pace.  It's one of my favourites, always reliable with great stuff to read about adventures, travel, training, racing, books, etc.  You know, all the stuff I love!  Anyway, so here are some questions she posted and my answers to them.

1. What was the inspiration for your blog and its name?

The inspiration came from my friend Kirsty when she was starting her blog and suggested I start one too.  Done.  The name is kind of a combination of a thing from Seinfeld and an inside joke between Jason, our friend Norm, and myself.  Remember the "Summer of George" from Seinfeld, when George's fiancee died and he was free to do whatever he wanted for the summer?  Well, Norm and I always joked it was the "Summer of Jason" when he would sign up for races and would focus on pretty much only that.  So in 2010 when I decided to return to Ironman racing for the first time in a decade, it became the "Year of Alison", and it just stuck.

2. What’s your favorite topic to write about?
I love to write about triathlon training and racing, travel, and our dog.  When I started this blog we had a nine-year-old German short-haired pointer named Humu.  Now we have a not-quite-three-month-old GSP puppy named Tiki,

3. What keeps you motivated?

Knowing that I want those couple of glasses of wine on the weekend.  Also, cute training & racing gear.  Thank you Betty Designs!

4. If you could have a super power, what would it be?
Honestly, I don't think super powers would be that great in real life.  Sure, if you could see the future you could choose the winning lottery numbers, but you'd also get advance notice of a lot of pretty depressing stuff, like when you and your loved ones are going to die.  That would really suck.  I guess if I could have anything, it would be to eat as much as I wanted and never gain weight.  But maybe there's a dark underside to that one too.

5. What’s your biggest fitness goal, or A race, this year?
Good question.  Our biggest personal goal is training our new pup, which takes priority over training and racing.  But my biggest race goal is the full Vineman Aquabike (IM-distance swim and bike) at the end of July.

6. Describe your perfect day.
Depends on if I'm at home or on vacation.  
At home: sleep in, go for a ride, play with the dog, then hang out with Jason and Tiki in the sun on the deck, drinking a nice wine.
On vacation in Hawaii: up early for an ocean swim, go for a ride, hang out by the pool, then go to Lava Java for pizza, wine, and watching the sunset. 

7. Do you have a mantra, and if so, what is it?

Live like you mean it.  You only get one shot at life, so what you spend your time on has to be what you love and what you want to do.  Don't merely phone it in.

8. What’s your go-to dinner?
Hmmm.  We have a few around here.  One is pizza.  Another is black bean tacos.  The other is rice bowls with steamed veggies and smoked tofu.

9. If you could give your 16-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Don't sweat the whole t-roof Trans Am thing.  While yes, it would have been a most awesome car to have back in 1986, but in the end my life has been pretty bitchin' even though I never had it.

10. What is something that you love about yourself?
My sense of humour... most of the time I can see the humour in things and laugh.  Also, I believe I'm fairly intelligent and can think my ways through things.

11. If you could pick your dream career, and money wasn’t an issue, what would you do?
I thought my dream career was marine biology, and worked at it for several years before I got tired of being away from home all the time.  I love my current job, but I guess if I could do anything at all... it would be a travel writer.  Go everywhere and share my experiences with others.

12. What are two goals you have for 2014?

One is to put the work in to train our pup properly.  The other is to improve my cycling and be more consistent with power outputs during long rides.

13. Where is one place you have never been that you have always wanted to go?

Africa.  Can't wait to get the chance to go there someday.   I feel like that won't be for a while, as it's going to need more than a cursory two-week vacation.  Someday Jason and I will be planning a trip of a lifetime to that continent, for sure.
I can also name a bunch of other places... but the question says just one so I guess I'll stop there.

14. Are you going to pass the torch and nominate other bloggers?
I would love it if other bloggers that read this would answer these as well.  Tag, you're it!

Victoria 70.3: A Very Brief History and Some "Insider" Tips

After hearing some rumours kicking around for the past week or so, WTC made it official and announced a “new” race this past week: Ironman 70.3 Victoria.  It’s not really a new race, just rebranded from the Victoria Half Iron, which was (is) an important event for me for many reasons.  In a previous life, it was the New Balance Half Iron for 12 years (not to confuse things, but actually started as the IslandMan in 1995;  a one-year disaster before my friend Norm took it over).  Norm, myself, and some of our closest friends gave blood, sweat, tears, and more from 1996 to 2007 to build it into a wildly successful grass roots event here on the west coast (I started with the race in 1997).  It’s also important to me because it was the first ever half iron I did (1996; I had done the “IslandMan” swim on a relay team the year before).

For over a decade, Norm and I could barely recall the months of May and June as it was all half iron, all the time.  We had a large, committed group of friends that helped us do pretty much whatever we asked to help put the race on, and there’s no way that race would have been the same without them.  Some of my now closest friends are so because of all the time we spent together in the New Balance Half Iron trenches.  I literally met one of my BFFs , Corinne, on the run course in 1996 (who, incidentally, was one of the most important people on the organizing team as well).

The early days transition area, circa 1999

The NB Half had seen some top pros of the sport at the time: Lori Bowden, Melissa Spooner and Tara Lee Marshall are past champions, Peter Reid was a member of our volunteer ranks, and in later years new pros (now more like household names) emerged, including Heather Wurtele who was our final women’s champion.  2007 was the last race we put on before turning the reins over to Lifesport.  It was a tough decision for Norm to part ways with the race, but we had basically grown up running the event and it was time to move on.

I have to admit I was pretty surprised when I heard that WTC was considering taking it over.  We had always made the athlete experience top priority, made sure we had high-quality hoodie sweatshirts for the participants, a huge amount of draw prizes, lots of awards, schwag for volunteers, a post-race dinner that was always legendary for those who attended, and more.  My emphasis with sponsors was always to contribute something that added to the athlete experience, not put cash in our pockets.  Those things had kind of eroded since our time at the helm, but still it seemed too “grass roots” for WTC.  Even though I (we) have been disappointed in some of the changes made to the race over the past six years, it’s still a really important event for me on the scale of life occasions.

I have nothing but best wishes for WTC with this race, now Ironman 70.3 Victoria, and hope they get a lot of success from it.  It’s a beautiful part of the world, an amazing community, and in many ways the hub of triathlon in Canada. 

For any of you that have never done this race, but are now considering it, here’s my “insider” advice on the course and the community.

The course

Venue:  The race takes place just outside of the city of Victoria, on the Saanich Peninsula.  It’s set up on the shores of Elk Lake, at Hamsterly Beach Park.  It’s a nice, family-friendly venue, but there is very little parking.  Given that WTC events are also huge in terms of participants (the municipalities always restricted our numbers, but I’m guessing WTC has made some deal with them as their races tend to be bigger), I think the organizers will have to arrange for parking/shuttle buses as parking is tight as it is.  There’s a concrete building with washrooms at the park, and it also has a changeroom on the other side, which is great for those days you want to swim/bike/run the course and get changed afterwards.

Temperature:  June in Victoria can be 30 degrees C (86F), or it can be 15C (59F).  We have had searing sun where everyone is crowded in the shade, and we’ve had it cool and rainy.  Come prepared for anything!  It is usually somewhat windy, but not like those crazy Kona winds or anything.

The lake: Elk Lake is ok.  It houses the national rowing team (across the lake), but it’s not my favourite lake in the area to swim in.  It’s usually a comfortable temperature by mid-June (for wetsuit swimmers), and in a hot summer often by August that it has warmed up enough for wetsuits to not be allowed, but will always be a wetsuit swim in June.  It won’t be freezing though.  
UPDATE: they have moved the swim to the other end of the lake (actually Beaver Lake).  There's more room for parking and transition, so that solves some of the shuttle issues.  However, it's not where I would choose to swim.  I'm sure they're working on making it a good venue.   ANOTHER UPDATE - ignore the last update.  After a bit of a gong show at Beaver Lake, they are going back to Elk Lake for the swim in 2017.

The bike course:  
UPDATE: there is a new, one-loop course.  Read about it by clicking HERE.  The paragraph below applies to the old course.
In a word: hilly.  As we always said in our race guide, “train for hills”!  Not big climbs, but relentless short hills.  Nothing crazy steep (there was a year with a crazy steep hill due to some road construction), just non-stop rollers and some false flats.  It’s pretty, through a mix of semi-rural, rural, farmland, and small communities.  There are lots of corners and turns.  It’s a tough course, but not Wildflower tough or anything.  It can be tiring as the technical nature of the course doesn’t leave a lot of places to get nutrition in, so stay on top of your calorie intake.  I haven’t heard if the course will be changing at all (and it’s changed slightly a few times over the years), but safe to say it will remain a multi-loop course as it’s on a peninsula surrounded by ocean.  Traffic is relatively light as it’s Sunday morning in a rural area.  The municipalities also put tight timelines for course closures in the past (we had to have everyone off the bike course by 11:30), but I have no idea what kind of arrangements the new organizers have made.  The course has always been between 86-88 km depending on the year; we were never really able to get a true 90 km out of it.  UPDATE: it's a two-loop course, 86km.  UPDATE #2: There's a rumour going around out there that it may become a one-loop, 90km course. I'll post info on the new course when/if that happens.  UPDATE #3: Yep, one loop course.  I'll give my thoughts on it soon.

The run course:  In a word: flat.  As we always said in our race guide, “don’t train for hills”!  The run is around Elk & Beaver Lakes, on a flat running path that is a combination of gravel, chip trail, and trail.  It’s shady of 95% of the run, so regardless of weather, a fast run is possible.  It’s a 10-km loop around the lakes (and a popular spot anytime for runners), so the race is two loops for a total of 20km.  Not a true half iron distance either, but close enough I guess?  UPDATE: yes, they did make it a true 21.1km by adding a short out-and-back section.

The community

How to get here:  Victoria is on an island (Vancouver Island), and as such you can arrive by plane or boat.  YYJ (Victoria International Airport) is served by Alaska Airlines, United, Air Canada, West Jet, and some other smaller airlines.  You can drive onto a ferry:  BC Ferries come to Victoria (actually Swartz Bay, Sidney, about 20 minutes from downtown Victoria) from Vancouver (actually Tsawwassen).  Washington State Ferries come into Sidney from Anacortes, WA (north of Seattle), and the Coho Ferry comes right into Victoria's inner harbour from Port Angeles, WA (on the Olympic Peninsula).  Finally, you can catch a passenger-only ferry, the Clipper, from downtown Seattle right into Victoria's inner harbour.  There are also several seaplane airlines from Seattle and Vancouver, but they can't accommodate bikes/bike boxes.

Where to stay: The Howard Johnson Hotel & Suites Elk Lake (less than 2km from the race site) was always a huge supporter of the race.  They have regular hotel rooms and larger suites with kitchens.   The Quality Inn Waddling Dog (Saanichton) and Accent Inn (Victoria) are also around a 5-min drive and were long-time loyal race sponsors in our days.  There are of course heaps of hotels downtown Victoria as well, which is about a 15 minute drive.  If you want some specific recommendations, from basic budget to chichi luxury, let me know! 

Where to eat: This is where things get tricky as it seems like every triathlete has specific dietary requirements, especially leading up to a race.  So I’ll tell you the places I like, and do with that what you will.  If you’re riding or driving the bike course, stop in at Breadstuffs Bakery (in Brentwood Bay).  They were a super-enthusiastic sponsor and athlete back in the day, and have delicious baked goods.  They use locally-milled flour and it’s all baked in house.  I don’t think they’re gluten-free and I know it’s not cool to recommend non-gluten-free things to triathletes, but whatever – I like baked goods.  Deal with it.  Rebar Modern Food (downtown Victoria) has delicious vegetarian food.  Red Fish Blue Fish (inner harbour) has fantastic seafood and a really cool atmosphere (it’s in an old shipping container, a must-see for sure).  Spinnakers Brew Pub (Esqiumalt) has a gorgeous, waterfront location right on the inner harbour, and makes great beer.

Where to go for bike stuff: Oak Bay Bikes and Pro City Cycles are the best shops in town.  You will be able to get anything you need at either place.

Where to go for other stuff:  There are two shopping plazas (Royal Oak Center and Broadmead Village Shopping Center) within a 5 minute drive of Elk Lake, with grocery stores, drug stores, fast food if that’s your thing, and specialty shops.  Downtown Victoria has a lot of specialty shops and quaint little stores, Canada’s oldest Chinatown, and an amazingly beautiful inner harbour to walk around (or take a harbour ferry tour).

Victoria's inner harbour

Where to swim:  Saanich Commonwealth Place (2 km away from the race site) has a 50 meter pool, hot tubs, showers, etc.  If you want open water, Thetis Lake can’t be beat.

Where to run: The path around Elk/Beaver Lakes.  For nice waterfront, head down to Beacon Hill Park and get a stunning view of the Olympic mountains in Washington state as you run along the Victoria marathon route (you don’t have to run the whole marathon!).

Where to ride: if you’re looking for a pre- or post-race spin and don’t want to ride the course, try the Lochside Trail or Galloping Goose trail.  They are flat, multi-use trails through the city, great for spinning out the legs and chatting with friends.  If you want to rip your legs off, ride the Munns Road climb in the Prospect Lake area.

Where to get coffee:  Full disclosure: I am not a coffee drinker (gasp!), but I have heard that people love Habit (downtown).  There are coffee shops everywhere (this is the PNW after all), and cyclists seem to love the ones along Cook Street Village as well.

That’s about all I can think of off the top of my head.  If you have any specific questions, fire me an email or leave a comment.  Put the Victoria 70.3 on your schedule in the future, and let me know you’re coming so we can meet up!

Experimenting with Power

Now that I have my power meter all set up, there's a matter of learning how to use it.  I recruited my knowledgeable friend Sean Clark for help; I've known him for years and he and his wife Tara Lee Marshall (yep, former pro triathlete) run a successful coaching business called Canwi Multisport.  Sean is super generous with his time and always happy to answer my questions (of course with some expletives thrown in... but this is to be expected if you know Sean!). I don't have a coach this year, but think I've learned enough over the past years that I can coach myself (and have great friends I can ask for advice when I need to).

He had me do a couple of tests to determine my "FTP", which stands for Functional Threshold Power. That's basically the power you could sustain for one hour.  I did one on the trainer and one outside... he told me the numbers would be lower on the trainer and of course I didn't believe him, and of course he was right. I guess that's why Sean runs the coaching business and not me.  I then sent him the power numbers, and he sent me back my power zones, along with a quick primer on what each zone is.

Basically, there are several zones, each corresponding to a percentage of your FTP.

  • Zone 1 is active recovery (aka easy spinning)
  • Zone 2 is endurance training
  • Zone 3 is tempo
  • Zone 4 is lactate threshold
  • Zone 5 is VO2 max
  • Zone 6 is anaerobic capacity

There is a zone 7, but doesn't really correspond with power as it's for super-short bursts.

I'm still figuring this all out, but at this point my understanding of all these zones is pretty basic: racing is done at the higher end of Zone 2 (Ironman), Zone 3 (Half Ironman), and Zone 4 (shorter races).  Really short TT's may even be done in Zones 5-6.

After Sean set up all my numbers, I did a 3:15 hour ride with a friend.  I didn't have the screen showing any power numbers on my Garmin, because I wanted to see where I was when I was riding in what I would have called the lower end of the endurance training zone.  We chatted as we rode, we weren't trying to hold a particular pace, and while we weren't just spinning, we weren't working hard.  When I got home I looked at the numbers, and they put me in the lower end of lactate threshold.  Whoops - guess I screwed up my FTP test and didn't go hard enough.  I definitely wasn't anywhere near lactate threshold chatting with Nicole the whole time!

Tonight I headed out after work to repeat my FTP test.  This time I kept the screen showing my power numbers the entire 20 minutes and tried to hit the highest numbers I could.  My legs were burning and I felt like I wanted to puke after the first 10 minutes, so hopefully I was going hard enough.  This 20 minute test wasn't fun at all... a crazy hard effort like that really isn't my style!  Anyway, the average was 45 watts higher than the first test, so hopefully I did it right this time.  Saturday I want to try a "blind" ride again where I don't look at the numbers until after, and my perceived pace will be endurance... maybe this time the numbers will match!