Friday, May 31, 2013

You're going there anyway.

We all have commitments in life that limit our available hours to train. While I have fairly standard office hours (9am-5pm Monday to Friday), our commute eats up another 15 hours per week because we have 70km of  the busiest highway in the world between our house and places of work - we leave the house just after 7am and the earliest we get home is about 6:15pm. Wednesdays we tend to get home even later, as we go visit my Mum after work.

Running isn't a huge problem - it's the most time-efficient of the three triathlon disciplines, and can be done anywhere at just about any time. I'm lucky to have worked out a swimming schedule that lets me get a good workout in four times per week, plus any open water swimming I may do. Cycling, however, tends to demand the most time in order to get in a decent session. While I do make a lot of use of my indoor trainer over the winter, when the weather is nicer I try to stay off the hamster wheel as much as possible. In order to get in a few extra miles in the saddle, I've taken to using commuting time as extra training.

A wicking golf shirt, tri shorts and a wrap skirt  make a comfortable cycling outfit and presentable office wear.

Now, I'm not hardcore enough to cycle to work - the absolute shortest distance I could ride without risking arrest and certain death by cycling down the 401 is about 80km, and I simply don't have 3 hours to spend each way. Since Tanker and I both go to work in one car I could always just cycle home, but even that is a bit much for a weeknight for me, knowing that I'll have at least a short run to do and dinner to make when I get home. Maybe someday, but not now.

However, shorter trips are totally in reach for most of us. Tanker and I go to the farmers' market every Saturday morning - it's only about a 21km round trip, but it's a great way to start the day! Since we live on top of a big hill, hauling our week's worth of groceries on our backs in messenger bags makes great supergravity training. When the days get longer (because there's no route that's lit by street lights) I ride my bike the 20-25km round trip to the pool on Saturday evenings, which practically makes it a swim-bike brick at the end - I do wuss out if it will be a chilly evening, though, since I'm more likely to get chilled riding home with wet hair and gear that's still damp from the ride out. We also have brunch with friends in Guelph once a month, and using the bike for the 50km round trip can both burn off some of the calories from a big breakfast and discourage overeating - there are some good-sized hills in between that could very well result in you seeing those pancakes, eggs & bacon a second time! We may or may not have learned a lesson about that after using our bikes to ride to and from the Downtown Kitchener Ribfest & Craft Beer Show.

My latest addition is actually a way to sneak in some extra training on the Wednesdays when we go visit Mum. It's generally close to 9pm by the time we get home, and all I can typically manage at that point is a 30-40min run, dinner and bed. The past few weeks (when it hasn't been thunderstorming), I've been bringing a bike in with me in the car, then dropping the car off with Tanker when I go see him at his 3 o'clock break. I could drop the car with him first thing in the morning and ride the 2km from his warehouse to my office, but I haven't been sufficiently wide awake to do so yet. Instead, when I leave work for the day I hop on the bike and pedal my way toward my childhood home - the direct route is 11km, but I add on a loop that makes it just over 15km total. This takes about 35mins, and because of rush hour traffic I usually beat Tanker getting there...but I get to sneak in a bit of training, and see some lovely sights along the way.

They added a pretty water feature at the rec centre down the road from Mum's house!

It's not a challenging ride - mostly downhill with a couple of gentle climbs - but every little bit of time pushing pedals counts. I have some wicking material golf shirts that I wear to the office anyway, and I can either change out cycling shorts for regular apparel or hide them under a skirt - it's not hard to throw my cycling shoes, helmet, gloves and a water bottle in a small bag to bring with me, and my bikes fit pretty easily in the car without even removing the front wheel as long as we drop the rear seats. It's a great way to unwind after a stressful day at work, too! I wouldn't recommend trying to do the bulk of your training this way - you still need those multi-hour treks in the saddle if you're racing long course and the hammerfests to build strength and speed - but easy rides have their place as well, if only for active recovery. If I ride to Mum's place, the market and the pool, that's at least another 55km per week - how much would your cycling improve from another 220km per month?

If you don't have a similar journey to make on a regular basis, why not think about turning a short trip into training? You can run or cycle to the market to pick up ingredients for dinner, over to the bank to make that deposit, or even just park a few kilometers away from the office and bike or run to and from your car. You can fill in the blanks in your training log, save on fuel costs, and even do your little part to reduce emissions and impact on the environment! You may even find time to explore that path you've eyed from your car or try a different route that cuts a few minutes off your daily drive.

Come ride with me!

Do you have a creative way to get your training done when things get hectic? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Woodstock Sprint Tri - May 26th, 2013

Note to self: if you desire race performance, you might actually want to put in some appropriate race preparation.

My entire motivation for doing this race can be summed up as wanting to get a tri in before the Welland Half Iron, and absolutely loving the Woodstock venue. I've raced here 3 out of the 4 years that the race has been in existence, though it has actually been a different distance every time - I did the GT12.9 in 2010 (my one and only age group win!), skipped it in 2011 to train for the Welland Half Iron instead (boo!), then did the 750m-30k-7.5k modified sprint distance in 2012. This was actually my first attempt ever at the standard half-Olympic 750m-20k-5k sprint format.

Of course, since it's not a priority race I decided to train through. This resulted in 10 hours of training from Monday to Saturday, with 3 of those happening the day before the race. With the whole thing only estimated to take about 90mins, I didn't really bother carbo-loading, and I think I actually get less sleep in the week leading up than I usually do. Just to pile a few more odds and ends on the excuse heap, I'd only got about 300m of swimming in my wetsuit since last summer, and the combination of water temperature (16c near the shore) and air temperature (9c at race start) stood a decent chance of inducing my second bout of mid-race hypothermia in the last 2 months. Come to think of it, I think Steaming Nostril was the last race I attempted the day after 3 hours of training, and it ended in a technical DNF. Glad I'm only realizing this now.

As it was, I contemplated just giving up and going back to bed multiple times. By the time I'd finished training on Saturday I was feeling completely shelled, crashing into bed at 11pm and dragging myself from its delicious warmth at quarter past 5. I creaked down the stairs to the kitchen to grab a meal replacement shake and the soreness in my legs from 90mins of hilly, windy cycling the day before made me wonder if I'd end up having to get off and walk on the bike course. The outside temperature was a measly two stinkin' degrees above the freezing mark. Nonetheless, I armed myself with the Braids of Justice, pulled my tri suit halfway on, wrapped myself in merino wool and soldiered out to the car.

Don't we look happy to be here.

Arriving at the race site just before 7am, I actually cranked my seat back a bit and attempted to take a 15min nap - I could barely keep my eyes open, despite the caffeine and sugar surging through me from my greedily gulped Tim Hortons Café Mocha. I was just about to doze off when someone pulled in beside us, parked too close, and unapologetically slammed his mini van's door into our car when getting out. Nice. Now too irked to snooze, I decided I'd better get at it and stepped out into the morning chill.

I managed to grab an end rack position, got my race kit, put some things in order in transition, and didn't even consider bodymarking yet - it was maybe 6c out, and I was in no mood to expose any skin. I found a few friends and chatted a bit, then remembered that last year I'd almost forgotten to get my timing chip because I was too busy yapping with people. Mind somewhat back in the game, I went through the usual portajohn-chamois creme-bodyglide-hydration routine, with Tanker reminding me that maybe I should put my gel flask in my bento box before the race so he wouldn't have to throw it to me like at Lakeside last year (thanks babe!). As the sun warmed the air, I finally got up the courage to strip down to my race suit, get bodymarked, run around a bit and then end up back in a much slower portajohn line. Apparently the caffeine kick start was a little late coming this morning, so it took me until 20mins before the first wave to...errh...get down to race weight.

I had to be quick about packing myself into my wetsuit if I wanted to get a warm up swim in, and I knew I'd need one - every time I've felt like I did the night before on a Saturday and got up to go to the pool on Sunday morning, I'd had a really crappy swim. I needed to get the frigid water on my face and in my suit to acclimatize so it wouldn't shock the breath out of me at the start, and I needed to get my heart rate up and feel my stroke. Fortunately, I think I had the easiest donning ever of my wetsuit (hooray for losing some pudge and having a skilled sherpa to help with zipping!) and only winced and whimpered a bit as I meandered into the chilly lake.

Sausages here! Get your rubbery sausages!

Is it too late to switch to the du? Or just go home?

I gasped as I ducked under the water to let some into the suit, and probably hyperventilated a bit as it trickled in through the neck as I thrashed about in something resembling a freestyle stroke for a few moments before being whacked in the head by a swimmer coming back to shore. This just keeps getting better! I shook it off, swam a bit further out while trying to check my sighting, then realized the guard boat I was sighting on was in motion. I turned around and swam back to shore with the cold water beating on my inner ears, wishing I'd thought to bring some earplugs with me. Ah well, I'd survive...right?

Anything's possible.

I was in the third wave, so I had a few minutes to stand and try to coax my bladder into warming up my suit for me. Don't you judge me! There are only two kinds of people in triathlon: those who pee in their wetsuits, and those who lie about it.

Can you feel the warmth?

We clapped for the first two waves as they headed off into battle, then I lined up with my fellow white-capped athletes behind the buoys after getting one last good luck kiss from Tanker at the shore. There didn't seem to be too many in wave 3, so I ended up quite near the front with probably no business at all being there. The plan was just to take it smooth and not burn too much energy on the swim, as I'd need all I could muster in the hills on the bike course...and to try to keep myself warm while I was out there!

Smooth water in Pittock Lake.

As the horn sounded at 09:08 to send us off, I was plunged immediately into a melée of flying arms and legs. I had managed to get myself stuck between two girls who were swimming at approximately the same speed as myself and each other, but I was about a foot and a half back from being level with them. I was locked together with them for the first 25m or so, then found some less populous water so I could breathe properly without being splashed and beaten. As things opened up I heard a loud jingling from my right ear; I was pretty sure I'd lost one of the beads from an earring, meaning it would likely end up at the bottom of the lake. Crap.

I tried to ignore the jangling and just get on with it, telling myself that I always swim well at Woodstock. The buoys actually seemed to be coming up fairly quickly, I was sighting effectively every 6-12 strokes, and my effort level and stroke felt sustainable. I actually started getting into a bit of a rhythm, and forgot a bit about how bloody cold the water was. I came down exactly on top of the first turn buoy, managed not to panic as someone swam overtop of me, and made my turn fairly neatly.

Basic rectangular point-to-point course.

I found some feet for the second leg and just stroked along until the second turn buoy, noticing that I was starting to pass some yellow caps from the wave ahead. There was lots of open water as I rounded the buoy to head for shore, and I was still feeling pretty good. The current carried me a tiny bit off to the left of the swim exit, but not more than a couple of strokes' worth - navigation had actually gone really, really well for me, and I had high hopes of posting a PR time for this swim. I've put in a lot of yardage in the pool this year (over 115k before race day) and seen some really pleasing gains, but open water has so many more uncertainties. I wouldn't know anything about how I did until I saw results, because as usual I had passed off my watch to Tanker before the race. I knew I didn't see many white caps ahead of me in the water, though.

750m swim: 15:15 @ 2:02/100m. 5/14 in W30-34, 01:46 faster than 2012 & 0:01/100m PR.

Get me out of this thing!

I stood up out of the water and managed to coax my semi-numb legs into something approximating a run, but had trouble getting out of my wetsuit - my left hand is still a bit weak from the broken wrist and the chill had robbed my muscles of what strength remains, so in trying to undo the hook-and-loop flap while zipping down I managed to lose my grasp on both the flap and the lanyard. I started trying to get things sorted as soon as I stood up, but as the above photo shows I was still struggling to strip down as I approached the transition area. Fortunately I managed to get a grip on things before I hit the timing mat and had my suit off my arms & down to my waist with goggles and cap off before I reached my bike.

Where is everyone?

The first thing I noticed when I got to the rack is how many bikes were still there. Since we're assigned racks by age group, that meant I'd had a pretty good swim after all! My wetsuit finally decided to cooperate by sliding off beautifully, and all went smoothly as I donned my race number belt, sunglasses, helmet and bike shoes. My only muck-up was flaking on the best way to run with the bike - I generally lead my mtb and CX bikes along by the stem, and tried to do so with Dolph on the way out of T1, managing to pinch my right hand a bit between the cycle computer and aerobar pad. 

Why doesn't this feel right?

I eventually remembered, as I panted and tried to run up the long, grassy hill to the mount line, that it was best to grab it by the nose of the saddle. I shifted my grip, then remembered I should also have the bike on my left as I ran. What a mess!

T1: 1:21. I took less time in T1 with a cast on last September!

At least I had no problems maneuvering the bike through the row of wooden posts along the road to reach the mount line, but upon arrival, I noticed another thing I should have worked out earlier: I'd managed to leave the bike in a nice, low gear, but hadn't set the non-drive pedal at the 10 o'clock position that is ideal for my preferred mount. I had to stop completely, swing my leg over and spin the crank backward, then clip in and ride away. Total n00b business there!

I had prepared myself for the nasty grind up the entrance road of Pittock Conservation Area and was pleased to discover that it wasn't quite as steep as I remembered. Not that I was happily spinning away down in aero or anything - I remained sitting up, but didn't have to use the two or three biggest cogs in the rear to get myself up to reasonably level ground. Of course, this now left me climbing directly into the cold North wind with legs that had more than enough of climbing into that same wind the day before. My feet responded by freezing - the only reason I could tell they were still there is that the pedals kept on turning. At least I finally managed to get the non-ventilated insoles into my tri shoes for a chilly race...not that it seemed to make a lick of difference.

Course elevation profile to the 10k turn-around point.

I ground away as best I could, feeling ok on the bike in general for it being my 3rd real ride on my tri bike since last September, but without the ability to generate much power. I ended up in the biggest cog I had embarrassingly quickly, managed to pass maybe 4 or 5 people, but got passed by at least two dozen riders. I tried to modulate my effort between the point of having nothing left for the run and actually being able to look at my bike split later without cringing, but it was pretty ugly. At least I managed to hit the big ring before the 5k point, but I confirmed my suspicion from the swim by pulling a bead-less captive bead ring out of my right ear as I rolled along. I tucked it into the rear pocket of my suit; just another blameless victim of this carnival of idiocy.

I also made a rather stupid mistake in not taking a look at the bike course - I had just assumed it was a shortened version of the 30k course, which would cut out the big hill at the turn-around. Imagine my surprise when I was directed to turn right on 15th Line when I was expecting to turn left further down the road! This also meant that I wouldn't have a tailwind for the whole second half, as I'd heading North again from the turn-around. Bugger! It's the athlete's responsibility to know the course, and I'd blown it.

Not the same.

I managed to make it though the turn-around without crashing (small victories, people), remembered I'd stuck my gel flask with an ounce of watered-down EFS Liquid Shot in my bento box, and slurped it up as I climbed back into the wind toward Oxford Road 33. Watching my splits at the first two 5k markers it was going to be a crapshoot to see whether I'd manage to come in under 45mins, but there wasn't much I could do except keep pushing. The initial climbs had taken their toll, and my legs were in survival mode as I made the turn West. Passing the 15k mark and rolling up the last grade of any significance, I tried to comfort myself with the fact is was now both downhill and downwind to the finish. There were still people coming the other way until the final couple of kilometers, so at least I knew I wasn't last!

Because of the initial climbing, I feel that Woodstock is a course that benefits from a longer bike - it gives you more time to settle in and takes the sting out of both the slow first section and that enormous distance between the mount/dismount line and the transition area, both of which contribute to an artificially low pace. Case in point: I had a faster average speed (27.0kph) at Guelph Lake II 2009 for the 30km bike leg in my first year of racing than I did for the 10k bike leg at the 2010 Woodstock GT12.9 (26.8kph) despite being a stronger cyclist. Compare that to a 28.7kph average for the 30k course at Woodstock last year, and it becomes pretty clear that short course will hurt your speed at this venue. Yeah, more excuses. 

30km bike: 44:26 @ 27.0kph. 6/14 in W30-34

Made it back eventually.

I hit the dismount line just as two other athletes who were clearly pretty shaky stopped dead in front of me, forcing me to slow to a crawl in order to hop off and start running. At least it was downhill to the transition area this time, I had figured out how to run with the bike, and I remembered not only where my transition spot was but also the most direct route to it through the racks. Slightly less n00b.

Tossing the bike onto the rack while trying not to run over my goggles, I actually had a flawless T2. Helmet off, shoes slipped on nicely (the openings having been coated with BodyGlide before the race - smart punk!), and pop the hat on as I run out.

T2: 0:53. A 10sec PR!

Well, I say run. I managed to force my legs into something like a trot, stumbling out of transition just as the first duathlon finishers were coming in to the line. Nothing like knowing just how slow you really are! It only got worse as I immediately started to death whistle and watched people I'd been ahead of on the bike start whipping past me like I was standing still. My feet had yet to defrost from the bike, and it felt like I had stones in my shoes directly under the balls of my feet, plus an extra one at the outside of my left foot, just behind the baby toe. I knew from racing Lakeside the last two years that the lumps under the balls of my feet were simply due to the cold (the sensation goes away once I warm up), but I genuinely thought I'd ended up with a rock in my left shoe. Nothing I could do about it but try to keep running.

The first section of the run course, as seen in the photo below, is some gravelly double-track that makes my tri loafers a somewhat dubious choice - they offer next to no cushioning or protection, but damn, aren't they fast to get on? Did I mention my 0:53 T2 time? FIFTYTHREESECONDS! I was trying to run a bit cautiously to avoid the bigger stones, but ended up stepping on a few anyway. At least now that I was working at holy-crap-I'm-gonna-blow-up intensity I wasn't chilly anymore! The air was still only about 14c, but the bright sunshine made it feel dramatically warmer...which of course is just what my chubby arse didn't need on the run.

I'm smiling because it's almost over.
I made the turn onto the paved surface of the dam with the freshening wind at my back, knowing I'd have to fight it on the return trip. Bugger. It was officially time to throw any or all expectations out the window and just try to survive long enough to finish without walking. Coming off the dam, there's a sharp little downhill onto a groomed rail trail-like section along the river, then another short but nasty climb up to the road section to the turn-around. I had bypassed the first aid station at the entrance to the dam and now passed the second where the trail meets the road, heading up the mild rise to the turn-around point on the road. I got a high five from a friend volunteering at the turn-around, then headed back into the wind to finish this gong show off. At least my feet had defrosted!

Those squiggly bits suck.

I did grab a cup of sport drink from the aid station at the road/trail intersection on the way back, with a downhill on which to sip it, but it was mixed so weak that it might as well have just been water. I was hoping for a bit of a boost for the finish (research has shown even swishing a carbohydrate solution in the mouth and then spitting it out can increase performance), but I'd settle for a little less dry mouth. Back along the river, then baby steps up the climb to the dam and into the full-blown, I-wonder-if-I-have-exercise-induced-asthma death whistle as I fought the headwind. It's kind of scary to hear your throat screeching with every breath and be completely unable to do a damn thing about it, but whatever self pity I might have felt was quickly quashed by seeing a lady running the other way with a prosthetic leg. I may be slow, chubby and wheezy, but I don't face any real challenges.

Back onto the stony doubletrack, I was a little dismayed to see a couple of pickup trucks coming straight at me - what the hell? Fortunately, they stayed out of the way of the racers...just. I was throwing everything I had left into the last 500 metres and was making enough noise to terrify any wildlife in a 2 mile radius, but the legs just weren't there. Too much training, not enough rest - I simply didn't have a racing gear left in me. I watched as a girl with 31 written on her calf pulled past me in the last hundred metres before the turn to the chute and was powerless to follow; I'd have been some kind of torqued if that pass had knocked me out of a podium spot, but was pretty sure I had nothing to worry about in that respect.

I spotted Tanker just before the turn to the finish, flashed him a smile as he snapped the photo above, then hooked right onto the blissful downhill to the line. I'd hoped I could manage a sub-90 minute time, but the clock by the arch showed I'd missed that by about a minute. I pushed right through the mats, got my handshake from John Salt, then went in search of water and a bite to eat - my stomach had actually started to growl!

5k run: 29:13 @ 5:51/km. 9/14 in W30-34. Sad.

Floating on air.

It turns out it's a good thing I never let off whatever gas I had at the line, despite the disappointment at not breaking 90mins. The girl you see just a step or two behind me is in my age group, and had been gaining fast! She's a good 50 feet back in the photo that Tanker took less than 30 seconds earlier; her 26min 5k sure blew the pants off what I was able to manage on the day, and I only beat her by 0.7 of a second.

Total time: 1:31:05.8 - 5/14 in W30-34, 41/94 Women, 187/295 O/A.
(Click here for results)

Given the lack of rest coming into this race, I'm satisfied with the result. I am actually particularly pleased with the swim, not only as a PR but as my first real open water swim for the year - I feel like the work I've done in the pool over the winter is bearing fruit, and hope I can swim with similar ease of effort and navigation at Welland next month. I know I have to do a great deal of work on the bike before then to prepare myself for 3+ hours in the saddle and the need for a decent run afterward, but I'm getting it done as best I can and can comfort myself with the knowledge that both the bike and run courses at Welland are virtually flat!

When all is said and done, I love to race, and I'm happier putting in a somewhat sub-par performance at one of my favourite venues than staying home instead...even if it did take the promise of a Hero burger at the end to get me in the water for the start!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Stocking the wood

The long weekend did bring some good training opportunities - I got my trail run on, and thoroughly enjoyed the monstrous explosion of life that has happened in the last couple of weeks. It's green! There are flowers! It no longer looks like a post-apocalyptic world of beige and grey!

Trilliums in bloom.

I also don't need a parka!

I finally got in a ride to Paris for a Brown Dog coffee with my sweetheart, with the cool shade of the trees taking the edge off what was a truly sweltering day. On our return, there were friends in our driveway to share a bonfire and fireworks!

From toe covers to sleeveless jerseys in 6 days.
I took my tri bike out for a sweatfest on Monday, then climbed on my motorcycle and finally got in the last thing I wanted to do before the start of tri season.

Not pictured: 800 million mosquitoes the size of small aircraft.

While I only had enough time to thrash out about 300m before the fading daylight kicked me out of the water, at least I know my goggles and wetsuit are in good repair, and I can even manage to stuff myself into them. I must say I wasn't much inclined to spend any more than a few minutes in the pond anyway - the water is still bloody freezing!

It wasn't difficult to believe it had snowed the previous weekend.

It was a wonderful weekend despite massive sunburn, nearly being carried off by mosquitoes and then the raging thunderstorm that broke out during my run on Monday evening. Having put in a bunch of training, it was probably time to wind down and taper a bit for the Woodstock Sprint tri on Sunday.

Except I didn't. Training has continued as usual, only with less sleep.


Fortunately this race is really just a means of prepping for the Welland Half Iron - the last time I did it, it was my first race of the year and I wasn't happy about that. I like to be able to get in a swim-bike-run in anger prior to the "A" race of the year, so I'm not stressing about the fact it was tough just to push myself through a 5k run and 1,700m swim last night.

Really. Not at all. Not with less than a month until Welland and 3 more races in the next 3 weeks.

On the bright side, I'm finally getting somewhere in the neighbourhood of race weight. Better late than never, right?

They've been hiding.

So off I go on Sunday to see which is stronger - fitness or fatigue. At least I've never actually raced a standard sprint distance (750m swim, 20k bike & 5k run) before, so whatever time I straggle in with will be an automatic PR.

Setting the bar low since 2009.

Really, the mercy is that the shorter distances than my usual 750m-30k-7.5k sprints mean the gong show will be over in 90mins or so, leaving me plenty of time to shake my head over why I thought this was a good idea in the first place and get back to training.

Or beer drinking. You know, whichever. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Just take it as it comes

I have stated on numerous occasions that I'm a bit of an idiot.

O hai! *derp*

This weekend is a long one for us Canucks, and I'm grateful that it should give me an extra day to get some much-needed training in. It's not that I've really been slacking off, just that there's a small chance I may have slightly overbooked myself between now and the Welland Half Iron.

It all kicks off next Sunday with the Woodstock Sprint. This will be interesting, as I've only been on my tri bike for one real ride (on Monday) since Lakeside last September, and have yet to do any open water swimming. I don't think I'm as much to blame for that as the weather - I'm a bit of a weenie about chucking myself in a lake when it's snowing out, like it did last Sunday.

So, just a little sprint - no big deal, right? Then the following Sunday is the Heels & Wheels 5k in Kitchener. I'll be pacing a friend through that - using it as a training run - and I do actually plan to cycle to and from the race. Again, not that big a deal...but I'd really love it if you could go to this page, select my name from the drop-down menu, and make a donation. There are people living with brain injuries that rely on the support of the BIAWW, and they appreciate every dollar you can spare toward their important work!

The Sunday after that is the 16th annual Cambridge Tour de Grand, where Tanker and I will be riding the 100k route. This will actually be decent training for the half, though it's shameful that I don't have any 100k+ rides in so far this year. I'm totally blaming the weather again. I'm really looking forward to this, as we always have a wonderful time...even when it's about a million degrees out and my bike isn't working right.

Then, just to make things interesting, the following Friday is the Cambridge Classic Mile. As embarrassingly slow as I expect to be (considering I've never run a stand-alone mile in my life and seldom do any speedwork), I can't resist the $4 entry fee and the opportunity to see a true world-class athlete make an attempt on the 4 minute mile. I'll see if maybe I can manage in twice that..

So that leaves me with a whole 9 days until Welland to make sure I'm ready to go.

Ill Advised Racing - truth in advertising since 2009.

Friday, May 10, 2013

What if, suddenly, everything changed?

You're out on a training ride, feeling strong - the bike is an extension of your legs, and you're smashing your record time on a favourite loop. Out of nowhere, a car turns in front of you..

You're trail running on a gorgeous afternoon, enjoying the lovely sunshine. You're powering your way up a technical climb, and a rock shifts under your foot..

You're up long before the sun on a crisp winter morning, heading to the pool. You step out on your driveway and slip on a patch of ice..

BOOM. Darkness. Nothingness.

When you awake, your whole world has changed.

A blow to your head has resulted in an acquired brain injury. What you once took for granted - your ability to work, to train, even to carry on a conversation or read a book - now seems hopelessly out of reach. You face a daily life of impairments to your vision and balance, disordered sleep, and even epileptic seizures.

Sound far-fetched? This is the reality for my friend Jan, a fellow triathlete and Slowtwitch member who suffered a brain injury as a result of a collision with an automobile while out on a training ride in September of 2011. His story is told here, and is something I recommend every athlete read.

Fortunately, there are organizations that provide assistance to people like Jan as they strive to recover and adapt to their new capabilities and limitations. The Brain Injury Association of Waterloo-Wellington is one such centre, but as with all charitable organizations, the scope of their assistance is limited by funding for resources.

In order to give back to the Association that has provided him with valuable assistance, Jan has involved himself in staging a charity race benefiting the BIAWW called "Heels & Wheels". Taking place on June 2nd, 2013, there will be a 1k walk/wheelchair event as well as a 5k foot race. The proceeds will help the BIAWW provide health care, rehabilitation, work/school re-entry programs, community services and acquired brain injury advocacy. They use music therapy and glass craft classes to encourage brain injury survivors to express themselves, provide education to caregivers, assist with legal advice, and encourage helmet use through the Lidz on Kidz initiative. You can learn more about how the Association benefits people in coping with acquired brain injury in their own words here.

Register, volunteer or donate here.

I've registered to run the 5k, and Tanker will be volunteering at the event. Not only will I be able to support a friend and a worthy cause, I have the honour of pacing another friend through his first race ever while his wife and two young sons participate in the 1k walk! When we take to the trail at Bingemans that morning, I will pause for a moment to give thanks for the ability to run, to share in the experience with excellent companions, and to possibly help in some small way with a fellow athlete's recovery.

I beseech you to join me in my endeavour to raise funds for the Brain Injury Association of Waterloo-Wellington. You can sponsor my run by clicking this link and selecting my name from the drop-down list, register to run, walk or wheel through this link, or show your support by volunteering to help with the race here. Together we can help make broken lives a little more whole!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mississauga Half Marathon - May 5th, 2013

This will be so full of nitpicky detail and such endless minutiae you'll start to wonder if it's a race report or a government tax practices manual. Yes, moreso than usual. Consider yourself warned.

I pass by this 30' tall sign every Thursday - talk about motivation!

Pre-race: Being Boring with Science

I had already blogged about the incredibly aggressive taper I employed for this race, including the final speed session on Thursday (3 days out) that kicked off the carbo-loading. I tried to stick mostly with low-amylose (high amylopectin) starches like glutinous rice rather than sugary or fibrous carbohydrate sources - I get jittery and feel really gross if I have too much sugar. In order to try to consume 7g of CHO per kilogram of (higher than I'd hoped) bodyweight, I ate very little fat or protein, but continued eating fruit and vegetables in fairly large quantities as I'm accustomed to a pretty high-fibre diet. Pre-race dinner was my standard: a small plate of turkey fried (jasmine) rice with broccoli, fresh sweet peas and green onion, eaten approximately 11 hours before starting time.

Physical activity was kept to a bare minimum after the track workout - I went for a short (1.3km) walk with Tanker on Friday evening, then did a 20min run with a couple of strides and a small hill on Saturday morning, finishing about 23 hours before the race start. We did walk around at the farmers' market after the run on Saturday and I did spend more time on my feet in general than I had meant to (errands, cooking, packing up my race bag), but come afternoon I was on my butt in the La-Z-Boy with my feet up and a movie to watch. Went to bed early - asleep by 10pm.

Occasional flashes of my own ridiculousness. All this just in pursuit of what amounts to a very ho-hum goal of breaking 2 hours for a half marathon. My overzealous attack on athletic mediocrity potentially wasted a beautiful day of riding bikes in favour of troglodytic DVD watching. Meh..

Oh yeah, the basis for my goal? McMillan's running calculator estimated I was capable of a 1:56:22 half marathon when I fed it my time for the Mudpuppy Chase 10k...from almost precisely one year previous to race day.

Sun's out - guns out.

Race Morning: Decisions, decisions.

Up at 04:45, slam 2 Vanilla PC Ultra Shakes, sort out the Braids of Justice and try to crowbar Tanker out of bed. With my darling husband finally upright, we hit up Tim Hortons for a cafe mocha and I attempted to engage my brain sufficiently to make the decisions I left until the last minute:

1) Eschew original plan of drinking the on-course Gatorade. I tried a couple of runs fueled by store-bought Gatorade in the week before the race and I just can't handle that stuff - it's too sweet/acidic, makes me feel thirstier than drinking nothing at all, and doesn't sit well in my stomach. I had made the trek up to Runner's Choice in Waterloo on Saturday to pick up a chocolate raspberry Gu Roctane, as my favoured EFS Liquid Shot doesn't come in single-serve packets and I've raced happily on Roctane in the past.

2) Go with the single pack of Gu Roctane instead of espresso Hammer gel. I'd done a lot of training runs on Hammer gel throughout the preparation for this race, but didn't feel I could trust it at the higher intensity I'd be working while on course, especially as it was shaping up to be a warm day.

3) Reassure myself I'd be fine with just one gel. I'd done a hard 18km training run on water only, and hadn't taken in more than 2 servings of gel (180cal) on any of my long runs, which peaked at over 22km/2.25+hrs. If I got into trouble, the aid stations would only be 2km apart, so I could try a sip or two of Gatorade. Really, I was going to rely on the research that suggests carbohydrate sensors in the mouth can lead to improved performance even when calories are not actually ingested and my extensive pre-race carbo loading to get me through.

4) Go as minimal as possible. No hand bottle, no compression calf sleeves, no heart rate monitor, none of the typical tri-dorkery; just me against the road. I'd have to rely on water from the aid stations and my ability to get said water from the cups into my mouth. Ergh..

5) Wear the brand new pair of running shorts I bought at Runner's Choice when picking up the gel. This could have been disastrous as I hadn't had a chance to do any running in them at all - let alone a long run - to see whether they'd suddenly start to chafe, ride up, or possibly spontaneously turn into a pigeon and flap away, leaving me naked, confused, and demanding a refund. They fit so well when I tried them on, though, that I was pretty confident I was onto a winner - they also provided more muscle support than the shorts I'd originally intended to use, which have a tendency to chafe a bit on my lower back.

6) Race in the freakin' awesome NBx Prism Tank that my sweetheart bought me last year. It makes me feel fast just wearing it.

7) Stick with the Brooks Launch trainers I've used for all of my (non-trail) long runs during the build. I considered racing in flats, but frankly haven't really got anything I'd trust at the moment - I've never run more than 10km in my K-Swiss K-ruuz, my Brooks Green Silence have about 1,000km on them, my Zoot Ultra Speeds aren't recommended for more than 10k, and I haven't run in my Zoot Ultra Race 2.0s since last summer. Besides, I was trying not to be a total dork (for once), and knew I'd probably need the extra cushion before the race was done.

With my potentially ruinous risk-taking in place, I left calf sleeves, an espresso Hammer gel, and a whole second tried-and-proven race outfit in my race bag in the car. Hell, if I failed to break two hours, I could just blame the poor decisions...right?

We hit another Tim Hortons as we got into town so I could befoul their washroom, but after parking in the lot of the bank I go to for work every Thursday (about a block away from the starting line) and taking some time to get ready the water I'd been sipping started to build some pressure. We'd seen a huge row of portajohns just off Hurontario St. on our way in, so after pinning on my bib I grabbed my BodyGlide and water bottle and headed off to get down to final race weight. There was hardly even a lineup - practically unheard of at 30mins to gun time. I adjusted fluid levels, greased up my armpits/side boob and damn near everything the new shorts touched - from my nethers all the way up to my lower back and belly button - then finally headed out for a warmup.

I knew I'd need to pay a little more than lipservice to the pre-race shake-out run - the plan was to find the 2-hour pace bunny and just try to hang on, which would require me to run at a 5:41 per kilometer pace (about 9:09 per mile) from the get-go. That wasn't happening on less than a 2km warmup; my chubby butt has a lot of inertia to overcome. At 7:07am I set off at an easy trot, turned around at 6mins, then put in a couple of small accelerations while feeling fat, slow and very warm - the sun was already starting to raise the 10c/50f morning toward the afternoon high of 24c/75f. It was supposed to reach 15c/59f by 9am, which gave me all the more incentive to get this race over with as quickly as possible; I have far too much surface area to run well in heat, especially when our pathetic excuse for a spring has given me virtually zero chance to acclimatize. Oh, and I'd forgotten sunblock. I am a dummypants.

Thirteen and a half minutes was all I could really afford for the warmup, but it would have to do. I was hoping like hell I'd avoid my experience at the Waterloo Marathon in 2011: I warmed up similarly (though on a chillier morning), but running down the first mild descent around 1.5km in both of my legs suddenly felt as though someone had inserted glass rods in my quads and then shattered them. I've never felt the same thing before or since, but it's always at the back of my mind when starting a road race.

With 10mins left until go-time, I discovered I needed one more...go time. Fortunately there was still no line for the portajohns (!), so I was able to adjust my hydration level one final time before heading for the starting corral. Through the whole morning Tanker had been wonderfully supportive while I was completely freaking out and trying to reassure myself I had a hope in hell of pulling this off - I gave him a last kiss, then one more for luck, and he told me he believed in me. I don't know what I'd do without that man.

Into the big chute to try to track down my new best friend - the 2:00 pace bunny. I'd seen the sign go past, heading forward in the crowd, but couldn't see what the person holding it actually looked like. I made my way up through the throngs of runners, dodging swinging elbows and legs as best I could, but got stopped by a solid wall of humanity a good 50 feet back from the pace bunny. I hoped I'd be able to catch the person fairly quickly, because I really have zero pacing awareness and wanted to take advantage of the chance to run a bit mindless. I also decided I'd start my watch when I crossed the start line timing mat and keep track of my 5k splits, just so I'd be able to see how badly I fell apart later on. Sportstats was offering live tracking so I knew I'd get a couple of splits (which would post automatically to my Facebook profile, because I can't completely un-dork), but...well...DATA!

I'm the one in the black.

Start to 5k: Cruise (no) control.

Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion gave the final countdown, and we were off! Which is a really impressive way to say "first nothing moved, then we started to walk slowly toward the starting arch". It wasn't until I was less than 20' away from the actual timing mat at the start line that things opened up enough to finally break into a run - I started the stopwatch, then switched back to the time display and saw I was probably about 3 minutes behind gun time. I was also somewhere around a minute behind the 2-hour pace bunny, which was not part of the plan. I was also thirsty already, which wasn't a great sign.

The first kilometer passed quite quickly, and I was feeling pretty good as we turned onto Burnhamthorpe - I was running at an effort level that was higher than a casual trot, but that still felt easy. I was passing a lot of people, but not really making any effort to do so, while still keeping my eyes open for my target; the pace bunny had to be up there somewhere. Fortunately my day was going better than one fellow I saw - he looked very lean and fit, the usual speed machine type, but was stopping to wait for a portajohn on the side of the road to open up. When nutrition goes wrong, it really does suck!

The first aid station came up just after the 2k mark, so I made my way over to the left side to grab a cup of water. It seems rather early in the race, but the rising heat would punish me if I didn't get on hydration from the start, especially since I'd probably get a maximum of about 125mL/4oz of water every two kilometers - at goal race pace that would mean just over 11 minutes between drinks. What I hadn't counted on, though, was the volunteers being completely overwhelmed and having to stop and wait a few seconds in order to get a cup of water!

Knowing I was losing time I probably couldn't afford, I set off at a run immediately after receiving my beverage, then tried to pinch the cup and get the water into me. Middling success ensued; I did get a couple of decent sips, and then almost immediately developed a side stitch. Crapspackle! I was already concerned I wasn't running fast enough to make goal time, and now this.

Nothing else for it - I viciously ignored the discomfort and pressed onward, trying not to think about how ugly it might get once I started trying to take in gel if plain water was giving me this much grief. I passed right on by the aid station at 4k; the stitch was finally coming under control, and I didn't really want to stop again. I bounced along with the sun at my back, trying to calm my mind and simply enjoy the day - I even managed to spot the 2-hour pace bunny and started to make up some ground on her.

The 5k mark of the course coincides with an bridge over the Credit River, and I took a moment while running across to gaze at the forested beauty of the river valley. I've spent more than 20 years of my life calling Mississauga home, but had never crossed this bridge on foot - it soars high above the water giving a lovely view downstream from the South (Eastbound) side, which was closed for the race. The price of the scenery, however, was a gradual climb up to Mississauga Road. I'd read that there were really only two hills on the course - one long and mild plus one shorter and sharper - but I've heard that before about other races and ended up thinking the writer would probably describe the Swiss Alps as "a series of mild rollers".

While my size isn't suited for it, I actually tend to pass the skinny people (at least those who run at a similar pace to me) when running uphill - I quite simply have a lot of strength in my legs, and as long as I can control my breathing I can power up slopes that leave the waifs flagging. Occasionally I have to remind myself of this, but it's a pretty sweet feeling when you can maintain almost the same pace and effort level up a climb as on the flat; essentially making the hill disappear. That's pretty much how this one worked out. There were some people playing bongos by the bridge, too, which was fun to see.

5k split: 27:45 averaging 5:33/km. 00:40 ahead of pace.

Interactive map available here.

5k to 10k: We rolling - nobody hating.

Making the turn onto Mississauga Road and passing the 6k mark, I knew we were hitting the downhill portion of the course - it loses 80m/250' of elevation between its start and finish points, which suits my gravitationally challenged arse perfectly. Unfortunately, the sun was now coming in from the left, making the day feel hotter immediately, and I had to stop again in order to get water from the 3rd aid station. I was right on the heels of the pace bunny when I got to the water table, and since she stopped as well I thought I could hang on, but the volunteers were overwhelmed once more and I was back on the chase. I did a little better getting the water into me, but wasn't hugely thirsty so I chucked the last third of what was in the cup down my back to cool me off. The side stitch came back again, but to a lesser extent, and was largely forgotten as I pursued my prey.

We turned into the University of Toronto campus and hit a long downhill slope as I caught back up to the pacer...then casually ran right by her at what felt like an easy pace. I reasoned that it probably wasn't worth slowing myself down to stay with her when I had a possibility of finishing a couple of minutes faster (per the McMillan calculator above), and if I really started to fade later and saw her come by I could always try to latch on again and have her pull me in to the finish. Knowing I'd started a minute behind her (by chip time) I also knew I had a bit of flexibility, so figured I'd just roll with it. There was a band playing at the University, so the energy level was high!

The kilometers seemed to be ticking past quite quickly - leaving the 7k mark behind we started to climb back out of the University ring road, and I'd heard this was the shorter, sharper of the two hills. The sun beating down on my sunblock-less shoulders had me huffing and puffing as I ascended and made me question my effort level at this early juncture, but I was able to recover fairly well at the top after crossing a timing mat at the 8k mark. Sportstats put my split at 44:34, a 5:34/km pace - now 00:54 ahead of schedule.

I'd figured that I'd start taking in some gel around the 45min mark, so just after passing the 4th aid station I pulled my pack of Gu Roctane out of the back pocket of my shorts and ripped it open, taking a small nibble to see how it would sit. Just my luck - the side stitch was back with a vengeance,  and my mouth felt dry and sticky. Damnit, if I had my hand bottle I could have prevented this - I used it happily for Around the Bay last year!

Approaching the 10k mark I was in familiar childhood territory - my Dad used to take me tobogganing at Mississauga Golf & Country Club in the winter, and we'd always stop at the spring on the side of the road for a drink of icy cold water from an underground lake that fed into the Credit River. I was sad to see that the spring has been blocked up, with its water now seemingly feeding a fountain in the yard of some rich person's mansion. I really, really wanted to go splash around in that fountain to cool off, but it was behind a fence and I had work to do. One of the huge houses had its stereo blasting - went from classical music to some pop song as I passed - and there were a few more spectators out to cheer on and laugh at the crazy people.

5-10k split: 27:47 averaging 5:33/km - 10k in 55:32 averaging 5:33/km. 01:18 ahead of pace.

Down, down, down we go.

10k to 15k: Check thyself ere thou wreckest thyself.

I came through the first 10k feeling good - it hadn't really got tough yet, other than that one bit of a hill coming out of the UofT campus. However, seeing my 10k split on my watch made me pause - up until the Mudpuppy Chase last year, my 10k PR had been 55:00 and I was running just a tiny bit slower than that pace with over 11km left to go. The last thing I needed was to blow myself up and end up having to walk, and I could afford to take things a little slower to try to help my gut digest the fluid and calories I was trying to process. There was also a hill right at the 10k mark that was enough to get my attention, but had awesome spectators doling out heapin' helpings of encouragement.

The aid stations were finally starting to function with some efficiency as the packs of runners thinned out a bit, so I was able to keep moving through the one just after 10k and use the water to help another blob of gel down. I hadn't wanted to chance another nibble without fluid because I didn't want my stomach to lock up on me - it's so hard to settle it down again without dropping all intensity. I was a bit burpy from swallowing air while trying to drink, but other than the bit of stitch my GI tract felt perfectly fine; I wanted it to stay that way.

Right around this time we turned East to run alongside the QEW, leaving the lovely shade of the trees behind as we passed the golf course. I pulled the brim of my hat down a bit so I could keep my head up without having the sun in my eyes, and just focused on trying to keep my stride smooth. I could tell when my form started to fall apart as my left hand would scrape the edge of my bib as it swung - I'd use it as a reminder to try to keep my hands a bit lower and focus on driving them straight forward and back, rather than crossing over my chest.

Another couple of kilometers, another aid station, and another attempt to drink from a cup without drowning - I just end up kind of chucking the water at my face, and some of it almost inevitably ends up in my nose. I also managed to give my gel pack a squish while trying to drink, so it barfed some of its contents all over the outside and on my hands. Mmm...sweaty, smelly AND sticky - I sure know how to run in style! I may have been a bit drippy, too, as I chucked another bit of water down my back to mediate the effects of the relentless sun.

By the 13k mark I was starting to get a twinge out of my left calf; it had been the troublemaker in the couple of weeks prior to race day, pulling my knee in ways that made it sore (possibly as a result of my horizontal track stand at Paris to Ancaster). Foam rolling and lots of rest had seemed to sort it out, but I knew there was the potential for it to start complaining again during the race. I wondered if wearing calf sleeves might have helped with it at all, but I hadn't actually worn them for any of my long training runs leading up to the half - I've been training very "au naturale" this year for whatever reason. In any case, it never progressed any further than a minor grump.

Coming through the 14k mark and grabbing another cup of water, I was starting to notice a different problem: my feet were developing some serious hot spots, which would likely only worsen in the final third of the race. I was surprised they'd come up at all - I was wearing socks and shoes specifically chosen for their comfort and blisterless properties on long runs. Was this an effect of running early in the day, before my feet had a chance to swell to their usual proportions (as I generally run in the afternoon or evening)? Was I just not used to laying down mileage at this fast a pace? Or possibly, was it because of all the pounding down hills? Whatever the cause, it sure wasn't comfortable. One more thing to ignore as I passed the turn-off point where the half and full marathon courses diverge, just before the 15k marker.

10-15k split: 28:21 averaging 5:40/km - 15k in 1:23:52 averaging 5:35/km. 01:23 ahead of pace.


15k to 20k: Suck it up.

Having done a spectacular job of slowing myself down from my initial turn of (what in my mind passes for) speed, I entered a period of damage control. It would appear that I'm quite fit enough to go hard for about 10 miles, but after that the combination of downhills, hard pavement and a failure to get down to a reasonable race weight take a harsh toll on my legs. My quads were starting to complain loudly, and were getting harder to tune out. Looking at my watch, I tried to reassure myself that even if I could only manage to run a 30min final 5k, I'd still be able to break 2 hours.

This section of the race held two cruel turns of fate: after tearing my legs apart on the descent to the lake shore I was faced with five kilometers of mostly flat trail (with a few tiny rises) to push through, and the 16km aid station was WAY late - more like 16.5km. Not a huge difference, unless you're already dehydrated, panting and have just emerged into full, merciless sun! I was also getting desperate to get one last shot of gel into me, then get rid of the sticky packet once and for all. The only relief came in the form of a fresh breeze off the lake - just enough to provide a bit of cooling.

I finally got my cup of direly needed water, washed down one last glob of Roctane, then ditched the whole business just before crossing the Credit River again by Port Credit Marina. I'd spent a ton of my childhood around this area, being the former location of the Port Credit Yacht Club, where my parents have been members since 1972 - the Club moved to its current location at Lakefront Promenade (right by the finish line) in 1991. It was fascinating to see the changes, and to finally check out the Waterfront Trail; I had moved away to KW around the time it was being built and had never traveled it before.

Waterfront Trail - the smile is totally fake, as I'm a mess.
Each kilometer was seeming to take an eternity now - I laughed to hear someone spectating around the 18k mark say "remember: you're doing this for fun!" It sure didn't seem like much fun anymore, especially since I was starting to death whistle; there were a few little elevation changes that not only seemed to take an inordinate amount of effort to climb, but also hurt like hell! My legs were completely torn apart by this point, and the hot spots on my feet were far past the point where I could ignore them.

The 18k aid station was late as well, and I was really suffering. I made a conscious effort to slow my pace as I got my final cup of water in an attempt to get some good hydration and try to settle down my breathing - I was sure I was going to blow myself up and end up having to walk it in! Passing the 19k marker at last on tree-lined streets, I shambled along wondering whether or not the pace bunny I'd left behind so long ago was hot on my heels.

The nice part about this section is that there were a lot more spectators appearing along the course, and even some entertainment - there was a fellow singing and playing "Folsom Prison Blues" on guitar in Tall Oaks Park, plus a group of drummers in the tree-shaded neighbourhood near the Hiawatha Park. I even got a high-five from a guy on a bike wearing Mickey Mouse gloves!

15k-20k split: 28:14 averaging 5:39/km - 20k in 1:52:06 averaging 5:36/km. 01:34 ahead of pace.

20k to finish: Last push pays for all.

Utterly destroyed and just wanting to be done, I struggled over the hump of a pretty little footbridge into the final section of park before hitting Lakefront Promenade. This part of the race is practically soul destroying in its teasing of runners - you can nearly see the finish line, but have to run around a small bay and up a bit of a rise in order to reach it! While it's only a couple of hundred metres long, it feels like it takes an absolute eternity.

As much as I felt like I was completely falling apart, I was still passing people left and right as I scanned the spectators lining both sides of the trail for the face of my wonderful husband and sherpa. As a matter of fact, I spent the entire race passing people, and was passed very seldom - I guess the studs all started up at the front. In any case, it felt really good to have the strength left to outrun some people...even if I was gasping for air and really wanted to just lay down in the shade and die!

200m never seemed so long.

Seriously. Bloody. Hurtbagged.

I finally caught sight of both the finish line and Tanker, just after passing a timing mat that didn't seem to make sense - maybe the 40km mark of the marathon? I tried to push as much as I could, but there was no kick left there - I'm not sure I could have moved any faster with a ravenous predator threatening certain death on my heels.

At long last, I finally crossed under the arch and hit stop on both my watch and my legs. 

20-21.1k split: 6:07 averaging 5:34/km.

Official time: 1:58:13 averaging 5:36/km. 01:41 ahead of goal pace.

135/366 in F30-39 age group - 368/1,297 Women - 979/2,360 O/A.

I got my medal, grabbed a space blanket, then buggered off to find some hydration and Tanker. This was one of the hardest races I have done, and I'm super pleased with the results - also very happy with how much better shape I was in at the end than after my first, when I was reduced to hobbling around like an arthritic 90-year-old! My quads were absolutely shredded and I certainly wasn't going anywhere quickly, but I was able to walk fairly normally; the strength work I have done on my stabilizer musculature has really paid off.

Post-race: You can't spell "analysis" without "anal".

Despite going out too fast in the beginning, I was able to hold on and my pace didn't actually degrade nearly as significantly as I thought. Not a negative split, but far from a blowout as well - if we assume I completed the first half in 58:39 averaging 5:34/km (based on the 55:32 split for 10k and a 5:40/km pace for the 10-15k section), the second half at 59:34 was only 55 seconds slower than the first, or approximately 5.2 seconds per kilometer (5:39/km pace). For comparison, my first half marathon was run at a 6:08/km pace with a final time of 2:09:23 - it's hard to be finicky about a PR of over 11 minutes.

The taper seemed to do the trick - while I was kind of losing my mind during the latter portion, the final track workout 3 days out combined with the savagely reduced activity through the rest of race week allowed me to heal some niggles and have zippy legs when it was time to lay the smack down. Consider that my build for this race was almost exclusively easy mileage, with some mild tempo and hill work thrown in from time to time; perhaps 2% of the ~820km I'd done from January 1st to May 4th had been at a pace under 6:00/km. I think the only time I actually ran at anywhere near the average speed I held through the race was during some hill repeats (back in early April) and the Thursday before the half itself. The sheer mileage and frequency of running (6 days per week) was what prepared me to execute.

I can't honestly say if I would have been faster if I'd had my hand bottle or not - the extra weight might have slowed me down more than stopping to get water at the aid stations, or it's possible that the stops gave me a bit of rest that allowed me to keep up the faster pace I was running near the start. I will be using a bottle for the Midsummer Night's Run 30k in August regardless - I don't think I can fake my way through 3 hours on the minimal nutrition and hydration that was just barely adequate for 2 hours. I never had the negative thoughts or chills come up that typically signify the need for more calories, but I wouldn't have wanted to try it on any less.

All told, I took in approximately 75 calories from the 3/4 gel pack I consumed, and a maximum of about 24oz of water (based on 7 x 4oz cups, with some poured down my back). Certainly no way to accuse me of overdoing it! I'm pretty sure my carbo-loading had a fairly significant impact on my nutritional needs for this race - I wouldn't like to try a run of that distance and intensity in regular training on such austere amounts. I showed no similar restraint after the race, though - it was off to the Yacht Club for a quick shower and massive brunch with Tanker and my Mum!

The rest of my race-day decisions panned out perfectly well. I don't think I would have been any better off with the espresso Hammer gel than with the chocolate raspberry Gu Roctane, despite not having used it since last summer - my history with Hammer Nutrition isn't great, and I was running much more intensely than I had been at any point when I'd taken in gel this year. Other than the minor twinge from my calf (which sort of self-resolved, or at least other things got painful enough to overshadow it), I never regretted going without compression, though I did hop into my quad sleeves and full compression socks directly after the race. The new shorts and the top I chose performed brilliantly; no sign of any chafing, and so comfortable I never gave them a thought. Think I may have a new favourite outfit for road races! It's a pity about the hot spots on my feet - I ended up with one really good blister on my right foot, just back of my big toe. Still not sure why, as it's the exact same sock/shoe combo that gave me no issues on multiple 20+km training runs.

As for the Mississauga Half Marathon itself, I have mostly positive things to say. The plentiful portajohns and well-orchestrated start were greatly appreciated; the route does take you through some of the loveliest parts of the city; the use of the Waterfront Trail and Lakefront Promenade for the end of the race provides a really scenic finish (along with that fantastic lake breeze); the volunteers were enthusiastic and police support along the course was excellent. There could be more spectators along the route, but that's out of the organizers' hands - I would suggest more volunteers for the first few aid stations, though. The quad-destroying downhill in the middle before the flattish, slightly lumpy section at the end is hard to deal with, but that's the challenge of racing and the net downhill definitely makes for a fast finish - there truly are only two climbs on the whole course, both done before the halfway point (or less than 1/4 way through the full marathon). I did not use the start line shuttle service or baggage check, as I had Tanker the wonder sherpa with me - parking was not hard to find near the starting area, but I am so familiar with the Square One Shopping Centre environs I had an easier time than someone whose knowledge of Mississauga is less detailed. Racers' checked bags were easily found at the finish line (I passed by the area where they were waiting for pickup), but did not seem to be attended by any security so I would not recommend checking valuables. I have heard complaints about the long walk from the finish area to the shuttle buses back to the designated parking at Cawthra Arena (about 5km away from Lakefront Promenade), and it certainly seemed as though runners were expected to walk quite a long way - perhaps 750m. There is no parking permitted at the finish line, but I "cheated" by having my Mum get an access pass during race week that would allow her and Tanker to park at Port Credit Yacht Club (where Mum is still a member), which is next to the finish line. I still had to walk about half a kilometer, but did not have to ride a Mississauga Transit bus to get back to my car! I'm also quite happy we'd arranged to have brunch at the Yacht Club, as post-race food was a bit weak; there were cups of Gatorade on offer once you got past the finish chute, bottles of water, half-bananas, granola bars and cinnamon rolls from Panera Bread cut in half. The Recharge With Milk folks (title sponsors for the half marathon) were there handing out cartons of chocolate milk as well, but I guess I've been spoiled by Hero Burgers at Multisport Canada races and the amazing spreads put on by trail races like Vulture Bait, Horror Hill and Run for the Toad.

Mission accomplished.

Things to work on for subsequent half-marathon attempts would be more than just 1 over-distance run in training and more discipline in getting down to a decent racing weight. With a few less pounds on me, a little more resilience in the last few kilometers and a bit of luck on race day, I might be able to pull off a 1:55:xx half in the future...but for now, sub-2 hours and achieving my stretch goal feels pretty damn sweet.

..and tastes like my first beer since New Years!

Now to work on a speedy recovery, since tri season is less than 3 weeks away!