Ironman Maryland

About a year ago, I decided I wanted to do Ironman Maryland (yes, despite having vowed I'd never do another ironman... I know...).  I started working with Melanie McQuaid, as I wanted to switch things up a bit and really felt like she was the person to help me do that.  I spent the last 10 months working harder than ever, especially on the bike, and turns out hard work really does pay off!

We flew out to the east coast, and then drove to Cambridge MD.  It's a small community, but very pretty.  We didn't actually have much of a chance to look around as it was a whirlwind weekend, so did all the pre-race stuff then just relaxed.  My BFF from high school and her husband (Elfreda "Fred" and Mike) drove down from Toronto to spend the weekend with us and cheer us on.  

The yard at our rental house. Idyllic and peaceful.
Each race package had a sweet letter
of encouragement from a local student. So cute!

Racked and ready!

Race day dawned early as it always does, but one thing I will say about this particular race is ROCK STAR PARKING!  The parking was literally right next to transition, so Jason and I got everything set up then just chilled out in our rental van, relaxing before the race start.  We put on our wetsuits in the van, and walked about 20 metres to the swim start.


Parking area RIGHT NEXT to transition!
The little things make a race!


The swim

It was wetsuit-legal, despite being warm enough the week before to have me pack my swimskin. The race started at 6:45a.m. with a rolling seeded start, and I was in the water less than 2 minutes from the gun.  Of course it was still dark, and with my tinted goggles I couldn't really see anything for about 10 minutes.  I could really feel the current (there was an incoming tide), and I was getting tiny jellyfish stings on my hands and feet.

It was a two-loop swim, with a new cool feature: you had to swim through pontoons at the start of the second loop, and above you was a timing wire that picked up your timing chip.  The second loop was a bit of a pain making my way through slower swimmers, and I really felt like I was fighting the current.  When I made the last turn for the last few hundred metres to shore, I got a major jelly sting.  I could feel the tentacles wrap around my wrist and hand, and could feel dozens of nematocysts firing and stinging.  Painful, but academically kind of cool because I could literally feel the pattern of the tentacles on me.  I kept swimming with the hopes that it would just fall off.  


Coming out of the water. You can see the current
pushing everyone off course.
I hit the boat ramp and checked my watch: 1:07 which is not a great swim for me.  I was disappointed, but knew it was a hard swim with the current so I hoped it stacked up ok in the end.  I found out later I had the 2nd fastest swim in my AG and 15th overall!

The bike

I had two helpers with me in transition (there was only one other athlete in there at the same time as me), so they helped me pull my top up and sprayed my stings with vinegar.  The transition was set up as really long and narrow, so it was a long run-out with my bike (then run-in as you had to rack your own bike).  Once on my bike I started pedaling, and basically didn't stop pedaling for the entire time as there was no where to coast.  

Once we were out of town, I could feel the wind but I just stayed aero, did my thing, drank, ate, focused, and turned the cranks.  It seemed like a pretty course, through the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, but I didn't look around that much.  The wind kept getting stronger and stronger, and the course was very flat and exposed.  How the 2 loop course felt like 80% headwind I am not sure, but the only recourse was to stay aero and focus.  I stuck to the plan Mel and I developed.  It would have been pretty easy to be discouraged by the wind, but I stayed positive because I knew I couldn't change the conditions!


Very flat course so every now and then
I needed to stand up just to change position.

Staying aero into the wind.

At the beginning of the second lap, Fred and Mike were there to cheer me on so that was a nice boost!  The wind kept picking up, so I just doubled down.  I spent most of the bike course watching 10 feet in front of me, eating, drinking, watching my heart rate, watching my cadence, thinking about perceived exertion... but there was one moment that stood out from all that.  A turtle was crossing the road and I didn't see it until the last minute, just in time to swerve around it.  It had it's own "holy shit" moment as it did the classic tuck-head-in-shell move as I passed.  Funny!

The final turn towards town was pure torture, as the wind was straight in my face and really blowing.  I hit T2 with 5:32 (3rd in my AG!) on the clock, which is a 28-minute bike split PR for me!

The run

I didn't really know how the run would go.  I am not a good runner, and until this year have not been anything close to consistent with run training.  I have a chronic knee injury that has given me some pretty serious problems in the past.  Melanie and I have been slowly chipping away at my running this year, changing my form to a shorter, faster cadence and looking for consistency.  I really struggled in Whistler 70.3 on the run after the 15km mark, so I thought Melanie was absolutely out of her mind when she said I would be sticking to a solid run/walk plan (8/2, then 4/1 if I needed) for the whole IM marathon.  I figured I'd pull my usual run for a while then walk the rest.

I started off feeling all right, it was hot and windy but I was well fed and hydrated.  I stuck to the 8/2 and just ticked off the metres.  Jason passed me at about the 7km mark (on his second loop).  I just stuck to 8/2.  I saw Fred & Mike a bunch of times, kept 8/2, drank, ate, and time & kms passed by.  At about the 24km mark, my watch died (it's supposed to last 18 hours but this was only around 10 so I guess there is something wrong with the battery).  I was pretty dependent on my watch for my strategy, so brainstormed how I could keep a consistent run/walk thing going.  I knew how many steps I (roughly) took per minute, so decided I'd count steps for 4 minutes then 1 minute walking.  So all I did for almost 3 hours was count.  It's one way to stay focused on the task at hand!!


Actually running!
Each of the 3 laps took you past
a brewery with a huge crowd outside
cheering.  Very fun!

Most memorable moment on the run... I had just passed the brewery with less than 1km to go to the finish.  There was a guy standing on the side of the road who yelled my name and I looked over - most random thing as it was my friend Arliss.  He and I went to grad school together at UBC almost 20 years ago when we were working in the marine mammals lab on our Master's degrees.  He's now doing post-doc research in Annapolis and just happened to be in Cambridge that evening! 

I finished in an overall PR time of 13:15, and a huge placing PR of 15th in my age group (the last IM I did I think I was 60th!).  While I was hoping I'd run faster, I am STOKED that I actually stuck to the run/walk plan for the whole time (so I guess Mel knows what she's talking about...), and honestly when I think back, I wasn't even running over a half hour until June - so the fact that I actually ran the marathon is HUGE!!


Jason already finished, cheering me on at
about lap 2.5 of 3.

Jason and I decided we would do the
"Judd Nelson at the end of Breakfast Club"
move at the finish line.  Here's my version.

And oh... Jason did all right :) finishing 1st in his AG and qualifying for Kona 2018.  Aloha!

This race has left me hungry to do another Ironman.  Where and when I don't know, but working with Mel has been an incredible experience and I can't wait to see where we can go from here!



Whistler 70.3

Jason and I were up in Whistler a couple of weeks ago to race the 70.3.  What a fantastic event - incredibly scenic, well-run, super challenging course... highly recommended!

The swim was a bit of a cluster, as about 45 minutes before the 70.3 start, the wind really picked up and the lake became a choppy mess of whitecaps.  Made a couple of the legs across the lake particularly gnarly, but pretty fun!  I ended up swimming a bit slower than I thought I would (but Jason and some other friends were also 2 minutes slower than expected) in 33:16,  However, I came out of the water in 2nd place in my age group (W45-49) so still pretty good!

The bike has lots of climbs and lots of wind.  Nothing like a long 25km climb into a headwind at the end of a 90km ride!  I rode steady, just tried to stay aero and positive.  I rehearsed all the mental and physical cues Mel and I have been working towards for my upcoming Ironman.  I am not a great climber, so it's not a course that suits me at all, but it was still fun!  I came off the bike in 11th place, and didn't go under 3 hours like I hoped (3:06) - but in the tough conditions of the day that's not a surprise!

On the bike course, next to Green Lake.
So pretty but I didn't really notice it on race day.

The first 10km of the run went by pretty quickly and was fun.  A couple of my Betty Designs teammates passed me (as I knew they would), and thanks to Amy for the walk & chat break!  The next 6km were me digging deep mentally.  The final 5km were pretty much torture... I haven't really trained past 15km and it showed, and the effort on the bike into the wind took it's toll with some pretty significant cramping.  Didn't help that I spilled my container of salt, not like you can stop and pick that up!  The "run" to the finish was all mental, telling myself I really needed the training day for Maryland.  If Mel hadn't been my coach I probably would have given up!  She has been fantastic at giving me some ways to really dig in.

Some teammates and I at the finish.

Jason was first across the line, but the staggered start meant he was second in his age group (and 2nd overall as well - not too shabby for a 48-year old!).  The best part of the race was having so many teammates in the half and full, there were 15 of us in total!  Betty Designs represent!

Jason at the awards ceremony.

We did get to spend a couple of days in Whistler
post-race, and got in lots of playing around!

Next up: Aquabike World Championships in Penticton (August 27), Cultus Lake Sprint (Sept 17) and then Ironman Maryland (Oct 7).  




Motivation

I am always hearing from others about how motivated I am.  Truth is, I don't think I'm particularly motivated.  I wish I was - it would be easy!  Yes, I get up at 5:30 a.m. most days to swim before work.  Yes, Jason and I sit down for dinner past 8 p.m. most days because we train after work as well.  Yes, our weekends disappear through long rides, long runs, long swims...  But believe me, it's not motivation that gets me out the door.  I am more motivated to hit snooze on my alarm, or hang out on the couch, or join friends for happy hour... but most of the time I don't.  

I choose to get up when my alarm goes off.  Some days I actually have to force myself to get out the door again with cycling or running gear after I'm home from work (a lot of days, actually).  If it was motivation, then I wouldn't have to work so hard at just simply getting out there; I'd be skipping out the door.  It's hard work, plain and simple.  I have never regretted getting a workout done, but I've sure regretted skipping them.

I wish I was motivated.  Instead, I'm actively choosing my destiny.  Everyone has a choice.  Choices are worth it. #doepicshit







Belgian Waffle Ride, Wafer Edition


I'm still riding on a high from the Belgian Waffle Ride last weekend.  It was probably the most fun I've had on a bike in a single-day event before.  It's a road race outside of San Diego, but a road race that includes pretty much everything and more: long road climbs, fun sweeping descents, fast flats... but then this "road race" also throws in gravel climbs, washboard dirt descents, sand pits, single track, rocky steep pitches, dirt switchback descents, water crossings, bridges... like I said - everything and more!

There are two distances: the 136-mile "waffle" and the 68-mile "wafer".  Jason entered the waffle (of course), while Corinne, Catherine and I signed up for the wafer.  My Betty teammate Amy was also doing the wafer, her boyfriend Rob was doing the waffle, and Kristin and her husband were doing the waffle as well.  So we had a great crew to roll out with!


Some of our group at the start - Betty Designs represent!


Pre-race waffles
Me and Kristin - "Mama Betty" and designer
of the fabulous gear! Legend!

The tag-line for the event is "Don't let the fun name fool you"!  Yes, you start the day with waffles, and end it with waffles and beer (it starts and finishes at the Lost Abbey Brewery in San Marcos), but there's a whole lot of hard riding in between!  This is not an event for novices, and not really an event for people with no dirt skills - cyclocross or mountain bike skills were important!  It was cool to be racing on the same course as real pro cyclists.  The winner was Jesse Anthony from the Rally Cycling team, just coming off the Tour of California (along with some Herbalife and Jelly Belly riders), and there were stars in the crowd like Ted King and Phil Gaimon... sharing a course with pros is common in triathlon, but pretty much unheard of in cycling.

To give you an idea of how hard a day it is, only 429 riders finished the waffle out of 756 registrants, and 353 finished the wafer out of 503.  There were only 87 women finishers in both events total - and there were a lot of women on the start line.  I finished 27th, never dreaming I'd be in the top 30 there. Next goal - top 20!

Part of the difficulty was the elevation. The waffle had 13,000 feet of climbing, and the wafer managed to pack in almost 5,000 in the "short" 110km.  Part of the difficulty was the dirt - you needed some off-road skills to ride everything - and yes I cleaned everything pretty much (everything that was actually rideable, as there were some intentional dismounts), and you needed the right equipment to balance the road & dirt.  Jason and I went with Hutchison Sector 28 road tubeless tires, loaded up with sealant, and they were perfect!  And then part of the difficulty was the heat.  The event moved from mid-April to late-May this year.  It was 34 degrees C in spots where we rode, and even hotter up in the Julian area ("The Hinterlands") where Jason went in the waffle.  


Waffle route and elevation profile (below).  I had ridden
a lot of the roads in the area before, so even though
I wasn't sure what I was in for with the BWR, at
least I knew where I was :).

The full meal deal

Much of the fun was in the organization.  OK, it's always fun to start with waffles... but in the weeks leading up to the race we received email updates with descriptions of each part of the course - the climbs and dirt sections had all been given Belgian-style names (in the spirit of the spring classic races in Europe).  The single track section around Lake Hodges was named Hodgesmeergate for example, a fun dirt descent that ended with a road climb up Del Dios Highway was called Lemontwistenberg Omgekeerde, the final climb of the day up Doublepeak was called the Muur Van Dubbleberg, and it's twisty switchback dirt descent was the Dubbleberg Twistenweg.  And those were only some of the sections!


Corinne in Sandy Bandy - a super-fun dirt section
with a lot of (you guessed it) sand.


Corinne selfie riding up the Bandyweg
(Bandy Canyon).

Me on some random dirt section, somewhere
in San Diego's North County.
Catherine and I riding through Hodgesmeergate.
It was actually much steeper and rockier
than the picture shows.


Selfie of Corinne and I at the top of Doublepeak.
It was all (mostly) downhill from there, and the dirt
trail down was a riot of twists and switchbacks!

Jason summiting the 23% (yes you read that correctly) grade
at the top of Doublepeak.  Oops, I mean Muur Van Dubbleberg.


We all finished with smiles and laughter (mostly), and would all come back.  In fact, I am already hoping it works out to go back next year, and this time I'll chase a faster time now that I know what I'm in for.  


Post-race food with Amy, Corinne and me, while
we waited for the rest of our crew to finish.  They
gave you towels soaked in ice water when you
crossed the finish line, which is what is on Corrine's head.
The post-race waffle with ice cream was AMAZING!

Cleaned up and watching the waffle riders finish.

Jason finished - check out the salt on him!


Souvenir beers (each racer got 2) to take home
from Lost Abbey Brewing.  That was in addition to
the 3 beer tickets you got there.



Swimming in Kona

#tbt to vacationing in Kona.  We spent a lot of time in the water!  We love to swim the Ironman course in the mornings from the pier, and it's not uncommon for dolphins to come into the bay and join us for a while.  There's really nothing more incredible than a pod of wild dolphins hanging out with you!





















We made sure to spend some time on top of the water too.