Ironman Canada: DNF by Jonas Caruana

This is not the post I was hoping to write after Ironman Canada weekend. After training for 36 weeks, I hoped to write about a graceful swim, an easy bike and a powerful run (my race mantras) that led me to putting a solid first Ironman time on the boards. I hoped to put on a show of grit, heart and power not just for myself, but for my close friends who had traveled in from Montreal, San Francisco and Vancouver.

So on Friday July 22nd, two days before race day, it was with a heavy heart that I sent the following email to my crew:

Hi Team,

First of all let me just say that I am so stoked to see you all, to introduce you to each other, and so grateful to have your support this weekend.

Second, this is a hard email to write and I am still processing it but I'll get straight to it. I will be starting the race on Sunday but will be unable to finish it.

Five weeks ago I had a fantastic race in Victoria at the Half-Ironman triathlon there. I suffered on the run but that's to be expected after four and a half hours of endurance racing. One week post-race, I started experiencing pain in both my knees. I thought it was just some leftover inflammation from the race (and nothing out of the ordinary) so I cut my training volume by 2/3 and assumed it would sort itself out.

Unfortunately it hasn't and I have a case of patellofemoral syndrome that has continued to get worse over the last few weeks. Basically what that means is my knee caps are tracking off centre due to excessive and imbalanced muscle tightness in everything that surrounds my knee. Your knee caps are shaped like a wedge on the underside, with a pointy bit that needs to track nicely down the middle of an equally wedge-shaped valley formed by the joint of your Femur (thigh bone) and your Tibia (the bigger lower-leg bone). I am quad dominate (thank-you cycling) and those bad boys have been yanking my knee caps towards the outside, creating pressure, inflammation and irritation on the underlying cartilage, bone and surrounding tissues. Thankfully no long-term damage done; just pissed-off knees. As an athlete I take full responsibility for the situation as I've learned that I haven't been stretching, rolling and recovering enough, to counter-balance the work I've been putting my body through. 

The result is that even short runs at slow pace are painful and I can't put power through my legs on the bike – and we all know how much I love to hammer on the bike. A final, 40min test run this last Monday was fairly excruciating and I needed the assistance of handrails to get down stairs on Tuesday due to the extent of the irritation. A final session with my Physio early this morning – and another stern talking to (she knows how stubbon I can be) – and we have decided that I will start the race, do the swim, and try to complete the first third of the bike, which is a 60km out-and-back section that runs back through Whistler before heading north for the latter 2/3 of the course. I will take that 60km as it comes and mentally it's about being amongst fellow athletes and soaking up what parts of the experience I can, given the circumstances. I will then withdraw from the race and join you all in cheering on the athletes for the rest of the day. 

I have been delaying sharing this news because frankly, I have been working towards July 24th for 36 weeks, since last November, and have been hoping I would be able to get right for race day. I have trained over 315 hours in that time: 174 on the bike, 61 running, 53 swimming, 27 strength training, and countless more hours in yoga, stretching, physio, massage etc. It's a tough pill to swallow. 

And it's not lost on me that you all have traveled, organised to take time off, and chosen to spend this weekend with me and I truly wanted to put on a show for you all. To the extent that I can I will do my best.

And then, I'll look forward to spending time with you, enjoying the mountains and having a beer.

I am not done with Ironman. This is a frustrating, but humbling, part of a journey that continues to be very rewarding and enjoyable. After next week, I focus on recovery and getting back to basics as I build toward the Noosa Triathlon, which is an Olympic distance race in Australia, at the end of October.

Let's enjoy a great weekend in Whistler first. 

Much love and see you all soon,

Jonas

How did I not address this problem sooner?

Frankly, I'm stubborn, a little ignorant, and there's always the stuff you don't even know that you don't know yet.

Up until Ironman 70.3 Victoria, I hadn't had any significant problems except for some pain in my left foot that came on after longer runs. This might have been a symptom of a bigger issue but at the time I put it in the bucket of "suck it up buttercup", did some localized stretching / mobilization which helped, and kept pushing.

I should have gone to my physio earlier. Stubbornly, in my head, I was home. "The cake is baked!" I thought to myself after Victoria; time for one last three-week training cycle to bank some more fitness gains and then taper into Ironman Canada. We're good. But I really wasn't and should have been at physio a week after Vic.

Gotta love IMS

When I finally did make it onto my physio's table – two weeks out from Ironman Canada – a few movement tests showed that my core strength was really not great, and my stability and alignment through each individual leg was also seriously sub-par. In a single-leg squat with my eyes closed I was so wobbly my physio said my level of control was like that of an old lady (we've worked together for two years and she knows I like a good dose of humour – so she serves it up from time to time). No amount of IMS was going to help. Though we tried...

I had the cardiovascular fitness to race Ironman but musculoskeletally (is that even a word?) I didn't have the alignment and control needed to push my body hard for 10+ hours. It didn't occur to me how critical this was until it was too late. Ouch.

Taking responsibility

Part of me just wants to shrug, make a deep sighing noise and say "Wow, I guess sometimes luck's just not on your side". But to brush this off as a bad stroke of luck would be wasting the most powerful learning of the experience.

The reality is, as dedicated to the training plan as I was, the plan was insufficient. I thought I was doing enough recovery work. Since committing to Ironman in November last year, I started doing a monthly session with an RMT, doing yoga once per week, and putting a 30-minute 'therapy' block into my calendar every day: time for stretching, rolling, Theraband exercises etc. I thought I was on it.

I did the RMT and the yoga. But was really slack with the 30 minutes of daily therapy. With busy days building a new career, and after training was done in a day, that therapy session was the first to go. There's a big difference between the intention to do something and actually doing it.

The lesson I've learned through all this is that the recovery aspect of my training has to be as robust as the 'work' part of the training. It has to be non-negotiable, just like training sessions are. I'm now painfully conscious of what happens when you work your body harder than you recover it. At some point it will tell you in no uncertain terms: enough. And that can happen at the worst possible time.

I won't waste more time beating myself up over being slack with my recovery work in the lead up to Ironman Canada. By the same token, I won't waste this opportunity to learn a powerful lesson.

Because even if it wasn't for Ironman Canada, or any other race, I'd still be doing a ton of physical activity. This is still my lifestyle. I love to sweat. And I want to be active well into the future. I want my body to keep up. 

The shift that's occurred is that now I truly get that I need to take care of my body. I can't neglect it. Tough way to learn the lesson but if this is what it took –  so be it.

What's the plan?

Back to basics. The big muscles are strong but the little ones are not. Without them as best supporting actors, my joints aren't protected, and as a whole the system lacks the integrity required to get through long course events. So back to physio, and lots of core stabilizer work. Back to technical skills development in the pool. Time in general to take a step back and make a new plan.

So far, no plans for another Ironman start line this year. Ironman Taupo, March 4th, 2017, is on the radar. I am registered for the famous Noosa Triathlon – an Olympic – at the end of October this year, and I'm really looking forward to that. In the meantime I want to be back on the bike ASAP and riding well because that brings me endless joy. I'm planning on trying cyclocross to mix things up and want to have a blast doing it. Fun = critical element of the mix. I would love to throw in another triathlon or two this year. But I will prioritize the foundational work and not race before I'm ready.

Mementos

These are my Ironman souvenirs. A bunch of branded artifacts that only competitors get. A part of me wanted to get rid of all this stuff so I'd get to stop answering the question "You did the Ironman? How'd it go?" 

I'd be lying if I said I didn't put my whole heart into this and that it didn't matter as much as it does to me. Ironman represents more than a race or a bucket list item. It represents a new level of personal progress – physically and mentally; a shift in what I experience as possible for myself.

My friend Dave Mackey also said after the race that Ironman is a great example of what's good about humanity: it brings people together regardless of who you are or where you're from, aligns us around a common goal and makes us pull together in support of each other. We need more of that. I love being a part of it and in my own way, being an ambassador for it. These mementos are the symbols of that and I will wear them proudly.

They're also mementos of the hardest lesson I've learned in training and racing to date. It hurts right now but that'll fade and the lesson will endure. I will keep them to remind me that recovering my body allows me to keep working it and be healthy for the long run.

Gratitude

Friday the 22nd – when my physio and I agreed the plan for race day – was a tough day. Ironman weekend was a tough weekend. I've never withdrawn from a race before. You know when people are in your corner when you send the email above and they immediately respond with messages of love and support. 

To my crew who traveled from near and far to be with me over Ironman weekend: you were such a rock solid foundation of unconditional support. Mackey, Sciacca, Mathieu, Christie, DK, Kristian, Pete, Andy and Sara, I can't thank-you enough.

Likewise, to all the training buddies, friends and family who called, messaged and gave hugs – I don't have the words to express my appreciation. You are the best. Special shout out to Tom Waller and Ryan Muir: you both have been rad training buddies and I can't wait to toe another start line with you.

To My Team who helped me prepare for this weekend, a wholehearted thank-you: Vital Supply Co. for feeding me, Christie Baumgartner for yoga, Barb Tyers for massage, Noa Deutsch for bike fits, Steph Corker for winter riding inside, Movement108 for strength training, Paul Cross for swim coaching and Musette for community and coffee.

Points on the board

I still got to put an Ironman swim time on the board and it's great to have something to improve on. And I got to be out there on the bike course for 60km of the bike, amongst all the athletes and soaking up the experience on what was an absolutely perfect race day, weather-wise. I got to ride alongside my training and racing buddies Ryan and Siân, and exchange a few words and smiles. And then I got to spend the rest of the day cheering people on and watching friends run across that line.

My friend Sasha Gollish is an elite runner from Ontario who just missed out on making the Rio Olympic team. She knows a thing or two about the ups and downs of training and racing. She is a true sportsperson whose reflections on her own performances continue to inspire me. She sent me a note with some words which I'm taking to heart, as I regroup and begin working towards the next start line. Thanks again Sasha:

You are going to be a smashing success. Do not look at this as a failure but as a stepping stone to greater things.
— Sasha Gollish

Here's to the next start line!

Photo credits: Dave Mackey, thank-you also for documenting the weekend in photos, many of which appear in this post. You got some great shots!

Ironman 70.3 Victoria: Outta the water smiling! by Jonas Caruana

I had a great day in Vic! Having shaken the skeletons outta the closet at Shawni, I was looking forward to Vic and beyond that, just excited to have at 'er at my second half-Ironman distance triathlon. I felt fit and – aside from a niggling pain in my left foot – otherwise healthy.

Goals

Just one for the whole day: Get outta the water smiling! I know that when I have a good swim, I have a good race. Good swim = good head space. And being in a good head space means I can come out of the water and really capitalize on my strong suit (the bike), which sets me up for a solid run. Of course, there were a series of tactical goals relevant to each leg, but this was the one most important 'metric' of the day: be happy coming out of the water.

I had two different race time scenarios in mind; with only a slight variance in average bike speed differentiating the two. Having ridden the bike course three times beforehand in preparation, I was fairly confident in how it was going to roll:

Race course modifications

We arrived in transition on race morning to the official message that the swim had been shortened. It was to go closer to the island (see map) but apparently, someone hadn't noticed that the weeds had been busy growing up from the lake floor and were so thick that sending everyone swimming through them was not a good idea. So they moved the buoys around a bit to get us clear of the weeds, and set up a 1,500m course.

Now you'd think that I'd be the last person to complain about a shorter swim, but a part of me was a bit bummed out. You sign up for a 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run, and you want to complete the full event. You've been setting yourself up mentally and physically to meet the challenge of those distances. That said, there's no arguing with it, and you race the course of the day, on the day.

The Swim

Get outta the water smiling. That was all I had to do, all I asked of myself, and all I thought about out in the water. I actually enjoyed it. I achieved a balance of about 50% freestyle, 50% breast stroke, which is good for me and heading in the right direction (longer term goal = 100% speedy freestyle). And this picture tells the whole story:

See that cheeky grin on the guy sneaking by at far left? That's the grin of "I did it!" (kept my sh*t together in the water) and "let's riiiide!"

I had a completely different experience in the water in Victoria, as compared to Shawnigan. In Shawnigan, I swam 1,500m in 34:01 and got out of the water mentally and physically rattled. In Vic, I had my head straight and swam 1,500m in 30:19 and came out of the water fresh mentally and physically and ready to rock the rest of the day – game on! This underscores how big a piece the mental game is for me in the swim. A great triathlete needs a strong mental game all race long; for me, it needs to be particularly good in the water.

The Bike

Aero setup, ready to hammer! 

I was so freakin' excited about the bike. Having come out of the water smiling and feeling fresh in mind and body, I was ready to get into aero and push some Watts. Conservative Watts, of course – I was mindful of not pushing too hard; I needed to ride strong but within limits so as to feel good going into the run.

I spent maybe the first 3/4 of the race shouting "passing, Left! LEHHHFT!!". I was cranking and loving it. All that work riding in the aero position in training had left me feeling comfortable and powerful down on the aero bars and things hummed along nicely for the whole ride. I was grateful for every pedal stroke.

Nutrition-wise, I had three bottles all loaded with 1st Endurance EFS to get down. This year I switched to an all-liquid nutrition strategy and it was really working for a few reasons:

  1. It simplified the setup on the bike: no taping gels to the frame or stuffing them in pockets, no messy eating and fiddling with wrappers
  2. Drinking from a straw makes for easier intake: you can sip more frequently, without coming out of aero (less fuss), which means you'll likely be better at staying on top of your nutrition game
  3. You have everything onboard that you need: this meant I could ignore the aid stations completely and just blow right by them (for full-Ironman distances, you'd need the aid stations)

Towards the end of the bike course it was clear that I'd made my way through the masses and was towards the front end of the field. Things were going great.

The Run

I always find the run takes some mental bracing, because I have to leave my rocket ship in transition, put on my runners and start moving about a quarter of the speed. I need to find ways to make the run not boring.

The plan for the run was to negative-split the two laps around Elk & Beaver Lake. First lap: get the running legs under me, find a rhythm. Second lap: lift the pace by a few seconds every kilometre and finish strong.

I got off the bike feeling exactly as I wanted: relatively fresh, strong, and with plenty left mentally and physically for a good run. You know within the first few steps where your body is at, and I felt ready to tackle a half-marathon.

The first lap went well but I could feel my body starting to tighten up and tire out. By the second lap, that niggling pain in my left foot was starting to persist and my average pace was going in the opposite direction than I'd planned. I just kept telling myself to hold on, one foot in front of the other, get around the next bend, get to the next aid station. One segment at a time.

Those last few kilometres hurt. But I'd had a great day and the results showed it.

Final results (adjusted) and takeaways

Made it onto the official shirt!

Overall, I had a great day in Vic and was very happy with my race strategy and execution. I continue to have significant opportunity in the swim (get to 100% freestyle) and on the run (build speed, muscular endurance, form). 

Final times:

  • Swim (1500m): 30:19
  • T1: 2:35
  • Bike (90km): 2:26:34
  • T2: 1:14
  • Run (21.1km): 1:43:40
  • Total: 4:44:22

Now if I were to adjust this for the missing 400m swim to get a comparable half-Ironman time, I'd add 8:04 (4x 2:01/100m - average race swim pace) and get a total time of 4:52:26. Compared to my previous half-Ironman time (the Subaru Vancouver Triathlon in 2014) of 5:09:12 (adjusted), that's about a 17-minute improvement and I am stoked!

Tying these results back to the original goal times, the swim was better than expected ('38:23' adjusted vs. 40:00 target), bike was bang on (2:26:34 vs. 2:26 in the 'better' scenario), but the run was off (1:43:40 vs. 1:35 target). Plenty of room for improvement.

With only six weeks to go until Ironman Canada, I am starting to get really excited! 

Gratitude

People make the party and it wouldn't have been the same without my bestie Juliet coming out in support, who ripped around the course popping up all over the place to yell at me. Thanks Jules! Oh, and did I mention she rode all the way there, and back again? Yes, from Vancouver. Actual, downtown Vancouver.

And to training and racing buddies Ryan, Tom and Travis: it was a blast traveling and racing with you as always – let's do it again soon!

 

 

Shawnigan Lake Tri 2016: The Bone Rattler by Jonas Caruana

The Shawni Lake Tri is a sentimental one for me because it was where I did my first ever solo triathlon, back in 2014. This year, it was a potential event on the race schedule but not a definite. As we got closer and closer to the Victoria Ironman 70.3 (on June 12th), I was getting more and more present to the fact that my last triathlon was the Stanley Park Tri in September of 2014... it had been a while since I'd raced tri, and even though I'd done way more prep in the pool and in open water than ever before... I knew that I just wanted to have a run-through under race conditions before Vic. Because I wanted to have a good day in Vic.

Then my friend and training buddy Ryan gave me the option to join him and his family at Shawni and gave me no reason logistically to say no to doing the race. This is where having great training buddies really helps: they can read between the lines, see what you really need and help you towards achieving your goals. Thanks again to Ryan, Corinne and the kids for having me along for the weekend!

So I really wanted to come back to Shawni, have a great day and clock a big improvement in my time versus two years ago. That competitive need to beat a previous time may ultimately have been what held me back come race time...

Pre-race

Going into the event, I had the best pre-race routine, ever. Ryan and I were up early, out the door ahead of schedule and the first athletes to show up at the Shawnigan Lake Community Centre, where the shuttle buses picked up athletes to take them to the race area. We were among the first to get body marked, had no-wait access to the porta potties (always nice!), and had our gear set up in transition well before the masses arrived and so we avoided being around all that tense, nervous energy. We had plenty of time to pull our wetsuits on and were the first to step into the water for the pre-race warm-up. We swam out to the first buoy, treaded water for a bit and both commented on how relaxed we felt. It was a beautiful day for a race and we felt great.

The Race...

...didn’t go as well as hoped. I had a hard time in the water; just not able to relax, feeling anxious and out of breath. My wetsuit felt tight and constricting. I had flashbacks to Shawni from two years ago, when I completely freaked out 150m into the swim and had to stop, cling onto a paddleboarder for a few minutes and mentally reset. Twice. This time, I kept flipping between two different states of mind: one where I was 'in it' – basically being irrational and getting caught up in the fear of it all; the other where I was observing myself in the third person, being rational and reassuring myself that I was ok and that all I had to do was keep moving and keep breathing. If you are a nervous swimmer you will appreciate just how much of a mind game it is, and how that can translate into your physical state.

Add to that, I'd swallowed a good amount of water and gulped down some air – and needed to burp myself all the way back to my bike in transition! Hey it's an honest race recap ;)

So I didn't stop this year – which was an improvement – but it was still nowhere near the relaxed swim I'd been hoping for. I got out of the water feeling pretty rattled, mentally and physically taxed with my heart rate racing. My nervous system was triggered and I felt short of breath the whole race and never 'settled in'. It took a good 20 minutes for my heart rate to calm down on the bike and even then I still felt in a high state of physiological stress, the shortness of breath continued into the run. It was a very, very uncomfortable race, and not because I was having a great day and pushing the envelope. Oh, and the roads around Shawnigan Lake are as bumpy as ever. So bones were rattled literally and metaphorically!

Heart rate graph from the bike. It took a good 20 minutes for it to calm down.

Heart rate graph from the bike. It took a good 20 minutes for it to calm down.

So, not the day I was hoping for but plenty to learn from. Lots more time in open water required, getting comfortable in that leg is very important to setting up the rest of the race well. I know I have the fitness to do much better.

Other Misses:

  • In T1, I went to put my Rudy Project Wing57 helmet on and the visor / shield popped off. It might have gotten knocked somehow so I stopped, put it back in... and then it popped out again as I was putting the helmet on. No time for games; so I left the shield off and rolled with my regular sunnies instead. I love that helmet (it's super light, so comfortable, and looks badass) but the way the visor attaches needs a re-design
  • Not having a racing hat for the run. This will sound really silly but I couldn't find a trucker that I liked so I thought I'd try racing without any head gear. Definitely race with something on your head – for no other reason than it keeps the sweat out of your eyes

Wins

T1: wetsuit off, helmet on and go! T2: helmet off, socks + shoes on, grab race belt + sunnies and go!

There were plenty of things that went right:

  • Nutrition strategy: one bottle of 1st Endurance EFS on the bike plus a few mouthfuls of water from aid stations on the run. That was plenty and I never felt like lack of energy was a thing holding me back
  • Executed the 'flying mount' and dismount in transitions: when you have your shoes already clipped into the bike, you basically do a running jump onto your bike and it allows for the speediest exit from T1, and the speediest entry into T2. I've also eliminated any decision making in transitions and reduced the number of steps involved with getting in and out as much as I can. Transition game is tight!
  • Lots of Body Glide on the lower legs to help getting the wetsuit off. Worked great
  • Garmin Edge on the bike (alongside Forerunner watch on my wrist): simply easier to see key data (power, time, average speed) at a glance, on a bigger screen, right in between my arms on the aerobars
  • First race on an actual triathlon bike: the Trek Speed Concept is a beauty of a machine and I'm comfortable staying down in the aero position the whole time

Perhaps the biggest win was that it was still fun. I really love triathlon; putting all those three legs together along with the transitions. I came across the line smiling and feeling victorious.

Conclusion

Shawni served its purpose. That being – in the context of the race schedule for the year – as a dress rehearsal before heading to Ironman 70.3 Victoria. Prior to Shawni, it had been 21 months since my last triathlon. I am very happy to have gotten this one under the belt before Vic. I've shaken the skeletons out of the closet and am looking forward to having a great day in Vic.

Final times:

  • Swim: 34:01
  • T1: 2:20
  • Bike: 1:14:35
  • T2: 1:35
  • Run: 46:47
  • Total: 2:39:18

Onwards!

All smiles post race: it's still fun!

All smiles post race: it's still fun!

Patience and Consistency by Jonas Caruana

It's the night before the Shawnigan Lake Olympic – the first triathlon of the season – and my good friend Juliet texted me to see how I was doing:

"You ready? Feeling good? ... You are going to wreck the swim." 

In case Mum or maybe a friend whose first language isn't English is reading and wondering about what she meant, Juliet was sending a huge boost of encouragement and basically saying I was going to do well in the swim. Which I was very grateful for!

I replied:

"I appreciate the confidence you have in me – I really do! And, I will be very happy if I 1) increase the percentage of freestyle I do from 5% to 50% of the swim, and 2) come out of the water feeling charged and ready to hammer the bike; not nerve-y and scattered."

Our exchange made me think about patience and consistency, and how much I am really loving triathlon because it's teaching me a lot about those things.

 

Shawnigan Lake was my first ever triathlon, two years ago. In that race, I had a full on meltdown in the swim, 150m out from the start.

I've learned and improved a lot since then, and know – for starters – that a bullish approach to the swim doesn't work for me because the words don't match my reality when it comes to the water, yet. I loved Juliet's sentiment, but in my own head, I had to check myself:

No, I'm not going to wreck the swim. I'm going to patiently go at it and simply aim to do a lot better than last time. 

That felt good because it represented growth in terms of patience and maturity due to experience. I've done a lot of work on the swim physically and mentally because for me the battle is indeed as much mental as it is physical. I've tried the muscle-your-way-through-it approach to swimming and know it doesn't work. I've found that the more pressure I take off of it, the less I try to control it, and the more patient I am with it: the better I seem to perform. I go faster and get out of the water feeling better in my mind and with a nervous system that is stable and in the game, not spooked and scattered. 

So the silver lining in struggling with the swimming is that it's forced me to learn patience as the gains have been slow to come. It's also taught me the importance of consistency because I swim better when I'm in the pool every second or third day. And without consistent effort there's really no point to having all that patience.

Those lessons have shown up in other ways in both the training and the racing:

One leg, in the context of a race: In the context of a triathlon race, the swim is just the first of five parts: Swim, T1 (Transition 1), Bike, T2 (Transition 2), Run. Each part requires its own process, focus, and patience, because they're all linked. I can't let myself blow up in the swim because it's only a small fraction of the total race and it will compromise performance in the remaining legs. I can't empty myself on the bike – even though it's my favourite part – because I know that I get a better bang for the buck energy-wise on the run. And on the run, at least for the longer course events, you only really take it to the red line in the final kilometres. It's all about strong, consistent, effort and execution of your race plan. You gotta be patient and let the race unfold. And you gotta be consistently strong throughout. 

One race, in the context of a season: Then that's just one race, in the context of a season, where you've got a whole series of races and you're building towards just one or two top priority races. Tomorrow is a 'C' race. Meaning it's on my training plan as a series of hard workouts that happen to be at a race. I'm sore from the last few days' workouts. It may not be my best Olympic distance performance. I gotta be patient as we build to the bigger goal of this season (my first Ironman)And not lose sight of the opportunity to practice executing race day protocol and getting consistently good at it, because that experience will help in future races. And heck yeah, racing it with everything I've got on the day.

One season in the context of many: And then, that's one season in the context of your life as an athlete. When it comes to triathlon, you get better at it the longer you do it. And this really starts to matter if you have big goals like qualifying for the World Championships in Kona.

Patience, Consistency, Triathlon... Life

What I'm loving about triathlon is that it teaches me about patience and consistency. I'm loving the process because there are no shortcuts. It teaches the long game. And there's something special about learning these lessons through physical pursuits. Maybe it's because you're suffering physically as you learn the lessons and there's something about that that makes it stick. I love the medium. I love the lessons.

Because patience and consistency matter a lot in life. Think about the crossover of these lessons. Starting early. Sitting in discomfort. Shipping work, every day. Having the patience to see something through. Saving and investing money, regularly; helping it grow. Learning something new. Success in all these things require patience, and consistency, over a long period of time.

And then there's investing in friendships. Raising kids. Building a life with someone.

The good stuff.

How to be an Ironfan: It's Race Day! by Jonas Caruana

This is the second of a four part series called "How to be an Ironfan", a guide to cheering on friends at endurance events. The first post is about preparations to make before race day. This second post is about what to do on race day. The third post is for the athletes re: what they can do to help their Ironfans. And the last is for the 'Inner Circle' – people who are close to the athlete – and has next-level tips for these next-level supporters. 

Let's talk about why you're at the event

So you've planned it all out: what to bring, where you're gonna cheer, who's coming – and everyone's getting pumped. You'll be the best Ironfans ever! But before y'all jump into the rodeo wagon and head off to the start line, let's take a second and talk about why you're going in the first place. 

Yes, today is about cheering on your athlete and having a great time yourselves. But it's so much more than that. Consider that your presence might be deeply meaningful to your athlete – sentimentally and emotionally. It is. They have been working hard for months, slogging it out, often in conditions most people would consider utterly ridiculous: riding in the cold and rain until it's borderline unsafe, hands so frozen they can barely operate the brakes. Up at 5am for those early swim sessions. 'Going for a run', where that run is longer than a half-marathon. 

A photo posted by Jonas Caruana (@jonosapien) on

Your athlete has a lot invested in this: emotionally, financially, time committed. No matter how casual they may seem about it, this is important to them. And your presence – as someone who knows them – is important too.

Because on race day, you get to bear witness. You get to stand for your athlete in what will likely be a roller coaster of ups, downs and everything in between. When they start to crack mentally – and that may very well happen – you get to be there for them and give them the words, the smiles, and the cheers that just might keep them going long enough to get to the finish line. Your presence might be the difference between your athlete achieving their goals, or not. You get to be a part of a huge learning experience for your athlete.

And you get to learn and be inspired yourself. You'll witness people achieving dreams, people doing what they might not have imagined possible, people who you might never imagine would do a thing like an Ironman and yet, there they are, crossing the line. Get ready to be awed by what you're about to witness.

So think about that as you pack up and get ready to head down to the course. You being there matters more to your athlete than you know! It's so rad that you're showing up to support!

Race morning, pre-race:

Here are some ways to be uber helpful before the start gun goes off:

Help your athlete get to the starting line: drive them there, drop them off and take care of parking so they can get on with preparing for the race: they will need to get body marked, to set up their kit in transition, and will probably need at least a couple of runs to the porta-potty (gotta love race mornings!) before they get into their wetsuit.

Have a friend hold you a spot in the line! Photo credit: sweatcourage.com

Have a friend hold you a spot in the line! Photo credit: sweatcourage.com

Hold them a spot in the porta-potty line: this gets increasingly long, increasingly quickly, as the time to starting the race approaches.

My wetsut – an Orca 3.8 – is great when it's on, but man is hard to get into!

Do up their wetsuit: they're far easier to take off, than they are to put on. Learn how to work with a wetsuit beforehand; be careful of fingernails as triathlon wetsuits are pretty fragile on the outside (extra thin in certain places) and very easy to puncture. Have your athlete show you how to grasp and work with the material.

Be a gear mule: It's often cold pre-race due to the early starts. Your athlete will probably want to wear a sweater, sweatpants, socks, shoes, toque / beanie... things to keep their core temperature from dropping pre-race. Let them know you'll be around to take their gear at the last moment; it'll save them having to bring gear they might otherwise have to throw away.

Be around to do anything else that might come up. One time, a friend – who is always super-prepared and organised – forgot her swim cap and goggles. We were a 25-minute drive from the hotel. The mission: get the swim cap and goggles before the gun went off. Which was in 60 minutes. Anything can happen on race day! And having a great crew around to help deal with these things is awesome.

During the race:

You've already packed your gear, planned your route and now it's time for your crew to execute the plan and have a blast doing it. Some specific pointers:

Cheer with sentences: use actual words – not "woooo!" Call their name out and say something specific: "Great work Tom – keep it up! Light and bright!" Why this matters is because 1) there are a ton of athletes and a ton of fans yelling "wooo!" How will your athlete hear you cheering for them? 2) being called out by name is sentimentally meaningful and helps get your athlete out of their head and reminds them their friends are there to support them.

#withallmymight Race Mantra. With everything I've got in every moment.

A photo posted by juls (@juliet_loves_romeo) on

Even better, ask your athlete what to say to them. Do they have a race mantra? My friend Juliet's was "With all my might" one year and every time she sped by we screamed "Go-Juliet-with-all-your-might-GOOO!!"

Communicate rankings: If your athlete cares about rankings and positioning within the field, and if they want you to, take note of their position, time the gap between them and the person in front of them, and relay that information as your athlete goes past.

One important 'don't': I've experienced it myself, and every athlete I've ever spoken to agrees: absolutely do not say they're "almost there" if they're literally not 100m from the finish line. 

Be a sports photographer for the day: If you’re handy with a camera: bring your fancy D-SLR, pack your zoom lenses and be your athlete’s personal sport photographer for the day. Document them and the event. For the athletes, there’s nothing they love better than an incredible shot of them in action. And the day is usually such a blur; it’s nice to relive it in pictures, and especially to be able to see pictures within 24 hours of the event (most of the official event photography companies take several days to post anything). 

Take pics and post to social media: Even if you’re not a pro shutterbug, whip out that camera phone and take as many shots and short videos as you can. Post them to Instagram / Facebook / Twitter / wherever and use the hashtag you agreed on beforehand. Friends and family who are following from afar will love you for this!

Pace them. If your athlete wants you to, run alongside them and pace them in the latter stages of the race. Be careful on this one: some races allow it – having pacers is common in most ultra-marathons – but in Ironman events, it is strictly forbidden (your athlete could get disqualified). Check the race regulations beforehand.

Enjoy yourself! Endurance events – and their finish lines – are some of the most inspiring places on the planet. You'll find yourself cheering for complete strangers and really getting into it – let yourself be absorbed into the emotion of it all and be filled with wonder: these people just worked out for 10+ hours straight? Maybe I could do that? Then go home, and sign-up for something!

Post-Race

Dierdre and Juliet; post-race treats in hand

As soon as they finish: ask what they need and go get it. It might be simple or it might be something odd (you never know), or even medically important. It's good to have two people here: one to stay with your athlete and the other to run the errand. If your athlete ends up in the med tent, have their health card info handy, know where the closest hospital is, and most importantly, who to call and who can stay if shit gets real. 

Hopefully all they'll need is a favourite snack at the finish line. I crewed for some friends at a half-Ironman in Spokane, Washington last year and they both had specific requests: Juliet wanted slices of cold watermelon. Dierdre wanted beer, and they both love Mexican Coca-Cola (it's made with cane sugar – tastes waaay better!). So I packed up a cooler and had these finish-line treats in their hands within minutes of crossing the finish line. They were stoked!

Get lotsa photos: with the medal, with the baby, with the crew... capture it all.

Jenna and Siân at the finish of Ironman Coeur d'Alene – their first full!

Get them cleaned up / refreshed: Have a change of clothes for them; a damp, cool facecloth is heavenly at this point in the day. Carry their bag, push their bike. They'll probably be hobbling along at this point. Make life as easy as possible getting from the race to the celebration meal, or whatever's next.

Last of all... be patient and help your athlete relax. You've probably got a million questions and are so excited for them. They are mentally and physically drained. Give them space to collect themselves – the gory details of the day will come out sooner or later (probably later, when cold beers are in hand).

And don't forget to give yourself a pat on the back for being such a rad supporter. Great job! 

 

For the athletes

The first two posts in this series are both intended for the Ironfans. But there are lots of things the athletes can do to help, and the third post in the series is for them: How to be an Ironfan: For the athletes.

Feel free to add your tips in the comments so that others can benefit from them.

Thanks

Appreciation goes out to Dave Mackey, Sam Sykes, Matt Corker, Jaryd Zinkewich, Sian Slawson, Dave Gordon, Alexandra Plante, Jenna Nutting, Nancy Loo, Juliet Korver and Dierdre Douglas for contributing ideas to, and reading drafts of, this series.

How to be an Ironfan: Preparing for Race Day by Jonas Caruana

This is the first of a four part series called "How to be an Ironfan", a guide to cheering on friends at endurance events. This first post is about preparations to make before race day. The second is about what to do on race day. The third is for the athletes re: what they can do to help their Ironfans. And the fourth is for the 'Inner Circle' – people who are close to the athlete – and has next-level tips for these next-level supporters.

"We're coming to see you race! Where can we watch you?"

I did my first triathlons in 2014 and anyone who has done any kind of endurance event knows how much of an all-consuming experience it can be. There’s the training you do to prepare. And then there's race weekend, where there’s a lot going on and a lot to think about.

And while I was new to the sport as an athlete, my friends were new to it too and after my first race it occurred to me that figuring out how to cheer at a triathlon and actually have a fun day is also quite an undertaking. "Where can we see you?" "What should we bring?" "Do you want us to be anywhere in particular?" and many more questions like these will arise as your friends try to figure it all out.

The goal of this series of posts is to answer those questions and provide a guide to help athlete supporters know what to do to be most helpful and how to have a great time themselves (athletes, send this to your Ironfans!). Your suggestions are welcome too, so please add them in the comments so that other readers can benefit.

Lastly, it's worth noting that while I focus on triathlon as an event type, the tips here are transferrable to most any other endurance event. With that said: let's go!

Swim start of Ironman Canada in Whistler, BC, in 2014. Big day ahead!

Preparation

Let's break this down into three buckets: Food + Gear, Route, and Crew. If you've got a group of friends all going to an event? Delegate responsibilities amongst the crew – life will be easier!

Food + Gear

Food: cheering at an endurance event is itself, an endurance event! The longer the event, the more food you'll need to bring. If a race is 11 hours long then that is 2-3 meals and at least 3 snacks. Think: coffee, water, coconut water (natural electrolytes), sandwiches, wraps, granola bars, trail mix, fruit… whatever you need to get through the day. Get food beforehand – don't count on it being easy to find food on the day as race courses tend to be set away from urban areas. And for any convenient food locations that do exist, expect line-ups. Pack your own food and skip the lines.

Money: credit card, debit card, cash: for when you happen upon those enterprising kids on course selling chilled, sliced watermelon.

Clothing: wear stuff you’d be active in. Think sweat wicking, comfy, layers. Long course triathlons start early in the morning (cold), go right through the day (hot) and can finish late at night (cold again). So you need to be able to layer up or down with the temperature. Wear your athlete's branded team kit to show support and be more easily recognized at a glance. Consider extras in the case of rain (raincoat, poncho, umbrella), cold (gloves, hand warmers, blanket), or heat (swimsuit).

Gear: cowbell (make some noise!), sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, bandaids, bug spray, blister patches, eye drops, bike (makes chasing your athlete around a course easy), bike lock, walkie-talkies (surprisingly useful), collapsible chair / beach towel to throw on the ground... all that stuff you need to deal with the minor annoyances of a long day outside and potentially away from civilization. Nothing saps the adrenaline of an Ironfan faster than sunburn and mosquito bites! Headlamp and glow sticks for events finishing after dark. Pack all your gear into a bag with two straps that you can wear on your back and have your hands free – do not use a tote bag or anything one-sided; it will quickly become uncomfortable.

Digital stuff: Smartphone with a full charge. Back-up power: charger + cable or portable battery back-up device. Download an athlete tracking app – two good ones for Ironman-branded events are IronTrac (iOS only) and IMtrackr (iOS and Android). Get your athlete's race number which is a unique number that will help you search for your athlete in the listings. While you're at it, get the race numbers of of your athlete's teammates / training buddies so you can cheer them on too.  Pack a camera, if different than the one on your phone. Charge it. Don’t forget the memory card. Happens to the best of us. Establish a hashtag for your athlete – circulate it amongst the crew – so that all social media stories show up in one place.

Finish line treats: Ask your athlete if there's anything in particular they'd like to have at the finish line and find a way to have it for them e.g. watermelon slices, a change of clothes, beer!

Party stuff! More on this in "Crew" below. For now: just remember that whatever you bring – you'll be carrying it around all day.

The definition of Food + Gear for the athletes. This is "T1" or the area where athletes transition from swim to bike. Those bikes are locked and loaded with all the food + gear the athletes will need for 180kms on the bike, the longest leg of an Ironman triathlon.

Route

Look at the course ahead of time. Find the event's website (confirm with your athlete that you have the right one!) then download the course map PDFs and get together with your athlete to plan...

The 2014 Subaru Vancouver Triathlon (Half-Ironman distance) bike course had three out-and-back sections that all passed through one road junction – this spot was perfect for spectators as they would see athletes 3x per lap, for 4 laps!

First, identify the good athlete-viewing spots. Notice which points will enable you to see your athlete multiple times without moving positions. These tend to be on out and back sections, and at road junctions (see example from 2014 Subaru Vancouver Triathlon). Also think about where there will be low crowd coverage – these points get lonely on the course and you'll get major brownie points from all the athletes for showing up and cheering there.

Ask if your athlete wants you to cheer at specific places? And if so, what approximate times do they expect to be at those points so you can be ready.

Second, take note of:

  • Where are the transition / check-in areas?
  • Where can you get water / food? (Aid stations = for competitors only)
  • Where is there shade?
  • Where are the bands (tons of races have live music nowadays)?
  • Where are there paths that run alongside the race course (so you can follow your athlete)?

Third, now plan your race day route. Involve your crew in this process so they know where peeps will be, when, and who's joining for what parts: some people will be in it for the whole day. Others will just want to see the finish line. Think about the flow of the day: where will you be in the morning, where will you go after lunch? Know when you can take a break: this really applies to longer course events. At Ironman Canada, once the athletes are on the bike and have come back through Whistler and are headed out to Pemberton - you have a 3+ hour break depending on how fast your athlete is. Go get brunch, head to the pool, relax!

My training buddy Greg at Ironman Canada; stoked to see us cheering!

Then, know when to get into gear and really turn it up for your athlete. Toward the end of the day is when they need you the most. Cheer them on at one point, then leapfrog them and cheer 'em on again. Hat-tip to Matt Corker who does this for his Ironman-sister Steph: he rallies the "Irontribe" who chase Steph around the course, stopping and cheering her on, then hopping on bikes and riding on to the next cheer point, constantly leap-frogging her and giving her as much encouragement as possible. Plan to follow your athlete around the course: they will love you for it!

    Last tips:

    • Pace yourself: you won't see athletes in the swim (obviously) and depending on the course, potentially not much on the bike. So save yourself for the run, that's where you'll be chasing them around the most.
    • Set expectations with your crew upfront: what people are up for and can handle. Do this the night before! Not everyone wants to run around an Ironman course like an Amazing Race participant for 12 hours. That's ok – just plan it accordingly and everyone will be smiling at the end of it.

    A quiet spot on the run course of a half-Ironman in Spokane, Washington. It's great to show up in these spots because you get to lift the athletes where they otherwise wouldn't get a boost. That's my friend Juliet in the picture, focused and laying it down on the run.

    Crew: People Make the Party!

    The "Irontribe", Ironman Canada (Whistler), 2014 

    Don't go it alone! Even an Olympic distance triathlon is well over two hours for most athletes. It can be a boring-ass day if you’re unfamiliar with what the event entails. So make a day of it with friends! Pack a picnic. Barbecue. Beer!

    Pro tip: exchange phone numbers before race day and set up a group text message thread so that everyone can stay in contact. This is crucial because oftentimes people in the cheer crew don't know each other. WhatsApp is an awesome chat app that works on every major smartphone, and allows you to communicate by group text regardless of who's got an iPhone, Android, Windows phone, etc.

    Go crazy: wigs, whistles, vuvuzelas, cowbells, costumes, wear matching colours, make signs… come up with some fun stuff to get your athlete’s attention. Tell them what to look out for and give some hints for where the on course you’ll be. Trust me, after however many hours of ripping their guts out on the course, they’ll be looking for you like a lost explorer and magically you will appear, beaming all the encouragement and energy they need to pick it up and keep moving. Super Soakers are rad on a hot day (ask athletes as they go by whether they want a spray). Portable speakers for music are awesome: the Bose SoundLink III pumps out some epic sound, connects to your phone by Bluetooth and lasts for 14 hours on a single charge. Megaphone: cause a raucous! Put a mic in peoples' hands and see what happens. Go crazy! 

    Get ready to rumble!

    So: Food + Gear, Route, and Crew. Plan out your day with those three things in mind and you're going to have a great day. And if you don't have time, just throw these five bare essentials into a daypack and hustle on over to the course: your athlete's race number, food, water, cowbell, phone.

    Hopefully this post has set you up to be fully prepared for a great experience supporting your athlete on race day. Now read the next post: How to be an Ironfan: It's Race Day!

    Did I miss anything? Got some pro tips to add? Please put them in the comments below for others to benefit from.

    Thanks

    Appreciation goes out to Dave Mackey, Sam Sykes, Matt Corker, Jaryd Zinkewich, Sian Slawson, Dave Gordon, Alexandra Plante, Jenna Nutting, Nancy Loo, Juliet Korver and Dierdre Douglas for contributing ideas to, and reading drafts of, this series.

    The 2016 Vancouver Sun Run 10k: Racing as Training by Jonas Caruana

    I love the Vancouver Sun Run because it's just, so, Vancouver: 43,000-somethin'-odd runners (this year), we take over West Georgia Street, the course is lined with supporters, and the race is accessible to everyone from wheelchair racers, to pro runners (the winner ran it in 28:52!), to families walking it with strollers. It's an incredible excuse to get out with the city and be a part of an awesome, decades-old tradition – this was the 32nd instalment of the annual run, held on Sunday, April 17th, 2016.

    Intention

    Race Day Protocol – kit check: New Balance 1500v2 shoes. Garmin Forerunner 630 watch with HRM-Run strap. Lululemon 5" Surge Shorts. Asics New York Marathon gloves. Oakley Jawbone sunnies. iPod Nano: the square one (the best Apple ever made!)

    In the context of my annual race schedule, this was a 'C' priority race meaning it's just another workout on the plan for the week: its purpose was racing-as-training, not to run my fastest 10k (although that'd be nice!). I knew it was going to be a hard one as the plan was to go for it and try to break 40mins, whilst not losing sight of the fact that the intention of doing this event – aside from getting a hard workout and being a part of a special Vancouver event – was to practice race day protocol.

    Race Day Protocol = all the things you do in the 12-24 hours before arriving at a start line. It includes: preparing all my kit the night before. Preparing what I would eat for breakfast. Setting the alarms. Getting up, eating, showering, doing physio exercises, mobilizing the body, putting my kit on. In that order. Paying attention to all the details. Getting into the right headspace, and staying there. This gets challenged when you get on a bus heading downtown and it's full of other runners with lots of nervous energy. I hopped on a bus, looked around at all the other runners, and that was when I felt my heartrate rise and nervousness level increase. It's good to expose yourself to that frequently because the more you do it, you become less sensitive to it, and the more relaxed you can be heading to the start line. And even then, breathe. Control the response. Remember, it's your race. Racing as training is a great way to practice your Race Day Protocol and make progress on the mental side of your race preparation and execution.

    Mood boosters

    When I know I'm going to show up to a start line feeling less than optimal physically (heavy legs, tired, etc) anything that can help boost how I feel mentally or physically is worth considering. In this case, I wore some dope new socks (definitely won the sock game on Sunday, if I may say so) and put together a race kit that looked wicked. Dressing for success is as true for sport as it is for any other area of life. I gave the legs a fresh shave (again: Athlete mindset. Be ready for action). I also knew that I didn't want to be 'in my head' so decided to listen to music on the run (something I don't do in most events), made a hard-hitting playlist beat-matched to a running cadence of about 180 steps per minute, so I would just lock onto the beat and move my legs to that.

    The Race

    A 10k is pretty much a red-line effort the whole way for me and that was the plan, plain and simple: stay out of trouble early on (there are so many people to dodge!); then get to – and play with – threshold and push it to the finish line. It's a mostly flat course with just a few inclines involved in getting onto (and over) the bridges. So pretty easy to find and hold a rhythm, and to power through the tough spots.

    I had a running buddy – Chad Clark – and we knew we'd use each other as pacers for the first bit and then see how it went: we were both clear that if either of us was feeling good and wanted to go for it – they would go for it!

    I felt steady and strong the whole race through – but when I got into the final kilometre, I had no kick in me. Chad lit the jets with about 2km to go and I tried to lift to keep him in sight, but the legs just weren't having it. The pace crept up in the final 500m, but that was due to the downhill of the Cambie bridge offramp, not a surge in leg power!

     Here's a screengrab of the data from the race (from Strava):

    Overall

    Official chip time: 40:50. Not my fastest 10k, but a damn hard workout and a race day well executed. Mission accomplished!

     

    Links:

    A little life hack for keeping your goals alive, every day by Jonas Caruana

    Ironman Canada swim goal: 3,800m in 3,800 seconds. Which means I need to be able to hold it down in this lane. And I'm reminded of it, every time I check my phone.

    Ironman Canada swim goal: 3,800m in 3,800 seconds. Which means I need to be able to hold it down in this lane. And I'm reminded of it, every time I check my phone.

    If you can see it, you can believe it.

    And if it's out of sight, it's out of mind. 

    What are the most precious pieces of real estate in your environment? The ones you see all the time:

    • The back of your front door
    • The lock screen on your phone
    • The door on your fridge
    • The wallpaper on your computer's desktop
    • The wall behind / beside your desk
    • The password to your email
    • The back of your medicine cabinet door
    • The centre of your car steering wheel
    • Your bedside table
    • etc.

    Why so precious? Time is the most valuable thing we have, and anything that captures our attention – for even small slices of time in our day – is valuable.  Each of the above is a piece of prime real estate that you can use to bring your goals alive on a daily basis and drastically improve your win-rate when it comes to achieving them. Read on.

    Goals alive, goals not-so-alive

    Earlier in the year I had a lot of conversations about goals and what it means to actually live them. Setting goals was common, but setting up to actually live them every day wasn't. By 'living them' I mean: you're thinking about them weekly if not daily, you're checking in on progress, and changing things if you're not on track. I remember starting 2015 with a stellar goal list and finishing 2015 having achieved some, and completely forgotten about others. Where was the miss?

    When I looked back on what goals I achieved and why, success was directly related to the frequency with which my attention was brought back to my goals. And to be fair, that was happening more by accident than on purpose. Examples:

    • For a financial goal (around savings + investments + repayments), I had Mint as a reminder. I've used Mint.com for a couple of years and it has an app which I tend to open almost daily, and it shows me how I'm tracking.
    • For my fitness goal ("In 2015: I ride 7,000+ kms. Stretch goal: 10,000+ kms"), I had Strava. After every workout I upload the data to Strava which also tells me exactly how much I've ridden in the year, every time I visit.
    • For a health goal ("I floss 330 days this year" – I know, I know; no, I never used to floss...)I promised my dentist I'd floss daily and knew that I'd totally quit without something to keep me honest. So I put a calendar up on the inside of the medicine cabinet door in the bathroom and every day I floss, I get to highlight the day. If I miss, it's a big bad "X".

    So for the first two, there was already something set up to bring those goals to my attention, and for the flossing goal, I made something to ensure I'd keep that goal in mind and work towards it. Once a goal had my attention, it was only natural that I thought about how I was progressing and whether I needed to course correct. And if a goal didn't get any attention – it didn't get any action.

    It's all about attention.

    We lead some of the most distracted, interruption-driven lives ever. I won't try and solve that beast of a problem in this post but I do have a simple 'hack' that will help you distract some of that attention away from Instagram and toward what matters (your goals).

    Here goes! Go grab those goals you set earlier this year. Think about the prime real estate in your life (like the examples listed at the beginning of this post). Now get busy printing goals, framing them, writing them on Post-It notes, and otherwise finding creative ways to put reminders of your goals in those places that you see all the time. Prioritize your most important goals first and allocate space accordingly. You can post reminders about the same goal in multiple spaces – make it work for you. The more creativity and personality you put into these reminders, the more of your own attention you'll grab, every time you see them. More quality attention on your goals = this is a good thing!

    Here are a few of mine (I'm not super artsy so visually, they're a bit boring... but words totally do it for me):

    • Core Commitments and 2016 Goals posted on my fridge door (artwork generously donated by my 4-year old niece!)
    • Annual Training Plan and Workout Purpose Check-In on back of my front door
    • Floss goal (and calendar) posted on the back of my medicine cabinet door
    • 2016 goals and Annual Training Plan posted on the wall beside my desk
    • Ironman swim goal on my phone lock screen (above)

    Now that you've got your attention...

    What you're doing here is creating positive ways of re-focusing your attention on the things you've declared as important to you. You're filling your headspace with thoughts of whatever represents the big things you're working towards in your life, and you're doing that more often.

    What you focus on grows bigger

    With your attention on the goal, you open up an opportunity to check & adjust. Regular check-ins on progress matter especially for the big goals: they can seem insurmountable in the beginning but when broken down, it's just a series of little steps in the right direction, and staying checked-in allows you to see how you are (or are not) making headway. And then, you have the opportunity to adjust, to change what you're doing, if required: "No, I can't take that trip to Tofino because I haven't budgeted for it""Yes, I will go to the pool at 8pm on a Sunday night to hit my planned training hours for the week". (Both real examples...)

    It's a positive spiral

    You wake up in the morning and walk around your place – and the first things you see are reminders of your goals. As you go about your day, you're being reminded of what you're working towards. You're checked-in and thinking about what the next steps are.

    You meet up with a friend who asks "how's life?" and because it's in the front of your mind one of the first things you mention is about the progress you're making toward one of your goals. That inspires them, they talk about it with your mutual friends, and now everyone's asking you about it next time they see you, which creates positive reinforcement for you. You become even more motivated and committed to your goals... and it's a positive spiral that's really setting you up to achieve big things.

    All this from simply hacking your attention and directing it toward your goals more often. Try it – commit to it for three weeks – and see if it works for you.

    Because if you can see it, you can believe it, you can live it, and you can achieve it.

    A few bonus links:

    I absolutely hate it when I'm reading a post online and it's riddled with links to read something different, every other paragraph. Do they even want me to finish the current article? Now that you've had a chance to actually digest this post without me sending you off in a million other directions, here are a few articles related to the theme of this post, that I think you might find valuable:

    Pacific Road Runners First Half: The Character Builder by Jonas Caruana

    After a winter of training it’s always exciting to toe the first start line of the season. You’ve had months of early mornings and long, cold (and usually wet, if you live in the Pacific Northwest) training sets indoors and outdoors, and it’s nice to get back into race mode, pin a bib onto your shirt and lace up for some competition.

    The First Half race course: starting and finishing at the Yaletown Roundhouse, it runs the perimeter of Stanley Park.

    The Pacific Road Runners First Half half-marathon on Valentine's Day, February 14th, was my season opener. Unlike last year (a cool, sunny day), it was a wet, cold morning with rains that had settled in. It was going to be one of those character builders that in a special way, we were quite fortunate to get – because the reality is, this was the first race of the season for many endurance athletes in Vancouver and it’s more about blowing out the cobwebs than having the best race of the year. So if you can toe a start line in a puddle an inch deep, and get through 21.1km of soaken wet, and cross the finish line smiling, you’re going to do just fine if come your “A” race day, you face similar conditions. ‘Cos you’ll be ready.

    So with gratitude for the rain and the cold, we were off!

    Two kilometres in, and we stopped side-stepping the puddles. Soaked to the you-know-what!

    The Race Plan:

    Being the first race of the year, this one was about kicking the tyres of fitness and form and getting a sense for where I was at after the winter. There were three goals:

    VO2 Max test at lululemon's 'Whitespace Workshop' (their R&D facility)

    1. Get to threshold heart rate and stay there, plus or minus 1-2bpm. I’m working towards Ironman Canada and basing my training on heart rate zones, and have done quite a bit of work to get these dialled (including some rather fun VO2 Max tests). I felt pretty confident that 162bpm was the threshold number to work around, whilst not ignoring other important factors like level of fatigue on the day, perceived level of exertion, and the simple fact that the numbers can always be off.

    2. Focus on form, throughout the race. I’ve been noticing a slight nerve-y pain in my left hip in training, and knew that with the intensity and duration of a race day effort that if something was unhappy, it would really make itself known (it sure did…). Best to find these things out now, early in the season, so there’s plenty of time to address them. 

    3. Stick to the plan! This was a ‘C’ priority race for me, meaning that it was just another workout in the context of my Ironman training plan, which, that week, totalled 12 hours of training. So having a plan and sticking to it was key... which requires discipline, especially when many of the people you know start passing you. Comparison with others is a battle that can’t be won – you gotta run your own race!

    The Outcome:

    Thanks to a speedy start, I got to threshold quickly and then stayed there ’til the final build in the last two kms. Check. I played with threshold during the race, going a few beats over for periods of time here and there to test where I was at. From that, and looking at the data post-race, I learned that my threshold number was probably a couple beats too low. Bumped this up to 164 post-race, and will continue to see how that feels in training.

    At the physio getting IMS: those needles are about 60mm in, but it looks worse than it is. Feels great after!

    At the physio getting IMS: those needles are about 60mm in, but it looks worse than it is. Feels great after!

    I lapsed in form somewhere around the 12-14km mark and again around 18km; noticed my heart rate was still at threshold, yet my pace was dipping. Form was getting sloppy, and required a conscious effort to get back in line, particularly as the pain in my hip was becoming increasingly noticeable. There's work to do here on the strength of stabilizer muscles (like glute med), along with a visit to the physio (post-race, my body let me know just how unhappy it was: felt like I was getting tasered in certain ranges of motion!).

    And, I stuck to the plan, even when my buddy Steph Corker ran by me as we were coming around Lost Lake, tapped me on the back and said “run with me champ!”. As much as I wanted to, I stuck to running my race and proved to myself that I could have the discipline to stick to the plan. When it comes to Ironman, that discipline will be key to having a good day.

    Results:

    Official finisher time: 1:31:11. This beat my previous personal best over 21.1kms by about 3mins. My hope was to be pacing around 4:05-4:10/km; at threshold I was pacing around 4:15-4:20, and you are where you are on race day, and I am happy with that!

    Overall, it was a great day and the race was a blast. Vancouver is still beautiful in the rain. It was my first time at this event and I can see why it’s a favourite amongst so many locals. It’s early in the year, well organized and well run, with cheery, efficient volunteers and what seemed to be the fastest crowd of runners I’ve ever raced with. I'll do it again!

    A special shoutout:

    ...goes to my new friend Karen Tulloch. I’ve been riding alongside this powerhouse at Steph Corker’s classes at Method Indoor Cycling in Kitsilano. I knew this lady had speed, but hot damn: she came in fourth overall amongst the ladies, and I bow in respect at her guts, speed and grace as she crossed the line with a finish time of 1:17:26!

    Here she is cruising across the line:

    Great job Karen!

    2016 Race Schedule: The Year of the Ironman by Jonas Caruana

    This picture was taken back in 2013. I threw this goal out there but at the time, wasn't in the life situation to support everything required to do Ironman. This year, it's on!

    This picture was taken back in 2013. I threw this goal out there but at the time, wasn't in the life situation to support everything required to do Ironman. This year, it's on!

    Ironman has always been in the back of my mind as an event that I wanted to do 'some day'. It has a pretty epic allure and as an endurance athlete I'm simply curious about exploring my body's physical limits. Beyond that, endurance sports give me a medium to test myself mentally and to practice things like dealing with setbacks, always doing my best, and giving wholeness to a process (finishing what you started). These learnings and experiences carry over into the rest of my life and make me a better person – so for me, Ironman, well... it's simply a bigger, badder test of all the above. I can't wait!

    Back in 2013 when I set the goal to race an Ironman in 2014, I was a little naive about the kind of commitment in terms of time and resources that would be required to really do it. I wasn't in the life situation to be able to support it then, but I am now and 2016 is the year!

    [jump to the race schedule]

    Building a Training and Racing Plan

    In 2014 (a triathlon-focused year) and in 2015 (a road cycling year) I self-coached and made my own annual training and racing plans. 2016 (another triathlon year) is no different. I self-coach for two reasons: 1) financial, 2) intellectual curiosity.

    First: financially-speaking, triathlon as a whole can be an expensive sport by the time you add up gear expenses (e.g. bike, running shoes, wetsuit, etc), services expenses (e.g. physio, coaching, massage, nutrition), and race expenses (e.g. race fees, travel). Coaching comes in a variety of forms and when I did my research I found there were basically three options on offer:

    1. High level training plan: "make me a plan based on a goal race and I'll do my best to follow it on my own" (one-time cost = $100-200)
    2. Monthly training plan: "every month, write me a plan that takes into account progress achieved the previous month, working towards my goal race" (approximate cost = $50-150 per month)
    3. Fully managed: you and your coach develop an annual plan that typically includes multiple races, and your training plan brings you to peak form for the top priority races. You interact with your coach frequently; workouts are continuously adjusted based on how you're handling the training load, and together you constantly optimize the plan to ensure you are getting the most from it (approximate cost = $250+ per month)

    I'm digressing but I think this is useful: if you're newer to endurance sports and don't know what you don't know then the unmanaged options (1 and 2) will be great to get you going and headed in the right direction (the downside is when you go off plan... you'll have to get it reworked). If you can afford a fully-managed option I say do it no matter your level: you'll learn at an exponential rate and provided you match up with a coach you personally click with your experience of the whole process will be so much richer and rewarding.

    For me, fully-managed didn't work for my budget and options 1 and 2 didn't work because of why-I-self-coach-reason-number-two: I'm intellectually curious and love to understand the 'whys' behind it all, and am willing to invest the time to learn and make my own plan (no point in paying someone else to do it). If this is you and you can make the time (let's face it: we lead busy lives and there's nothing wrong with saying "just tell me what to do"), it's an awesome route because you learn what to plan into your training and why, then you go and actually do it, and now you're in the driver's seat to make the adjustments necessary to continue improving. Being empowered to shape your own training experience like this is great for many reasons, not least because the reality is you'll probably get sick for a few days at some point, or go on a big work trip for a week or two, and now you'll be able to rework your own plan and stay on track toward your goal.

    I follow the training and race planning methodologies in Joe Friel’s “Triathlete’s Training Bible”. It's a long read but a very thorough one and if you're curious about learning the ins and outs of working your way toward any distance of triathlon, I highly recommend this book. Just be prepared to spend the time to work through it. And, as with all schools of thought, take it with a grain of salt and think critically about how well this model can work for you. It's certainly not the only approach to training that exists; though what's presented in the book is pretty common in tri circles.

    In my first year of triathlon (2014), I used the Triathlete's Training Bible, read tri blogs and forums online, and asked lots of questions of other, experienced triathletes. This year, I have performance goals in mind and while I've gotten better at training planning, there's no substitute for experience and so I plan to consult with a professional tri-coach once per month, as a check-and-adjust session. We'll discuss what I've done, what I'm planning to do in the next training period, and basically get an expert's reassurance that I'm not doing anything silly; and that I'm not leaving anything on the table.

    Here’s how my race season is shaping up…

    The Races

    February 14Pacific Road Runners First Half half-marathon; ‘C’ priority. After a long winter of training it's good to kick the tyres and see where your fitness is at. This will be my first time running the First Half, though I came out to cheer on friends last year and it looked like a blast. It's a relatively small race – about 2,000 runners or so – and there's always been a buzz about it in the endurance community as it's hard to find any local event this early in the year. Most of my triathlete friends are doing it, and I'm excited to join them. UPDATE: here's the race report

    April 17Sun Run 10k; ‘C’ priority. I ran Sun Run for the first time in 2014 and loved participating in what is one of the biggest 10k events in the world. This year I'm using it as a fun excuse to rev the engine and get in a good speed workout as part of training for that week. UPDATE: here's the race report.

    May 29Subaru Shawnigan Lake Triathlon, Olympic distance; ‘C’ priority. I also raced Shawnigan Lake in 2014 (it was my first solo triathlon) and loved it: great course, great community, great crowd. I want to go into Ironman 70.3 Victoria having gone through the motions of a triathlon beforehand. I could simulate this on my own, or I could do Shawni. To be determined. UPDATE May 24: I'm signed up! UPDATE: here's the race report.

    June 12: Ironman 70.3 Victoria; ‘B’ priority. Victoria is my lead-in race to Ironman Canada and my second ever half-Ironman (the first was the Subaru Vancouver Triathlon in 2014). I'll be looking to put in a strong performance, and in particular, am excited about the potential for improvement in the swim and run legs. UPDATE: here's the race report.

    July 24: Ironman Canada (IMC)Ironman distance; ‘A’ priority. Ooo weeeee! My first full Ironman race will be contested in beautiful Whistler, about 1.5 hours north of Vancouver. It's basically a hometown race and I'm very fortunate that I'll get to swim in Alta Lake, ride the bike course and run the marathon course beforehand. Very excited for this one! UPDATE: here's the race report.

    September 5Stanley Park Triathlon, Olympic distance; ‘C’ priority. This one's entirely for fun, because I do so much training in and around Stanley Park that I can't pass up the chance to race there. Not particularly concerned about times in this event, just stay injury-free and have a smile on my face! UPDATE: Removed from the list; focused on rehab post-IMC.

    September 10: RBC GranFondo Whistler. 'C' Priority. This is a 122km road race from Vancouver to Whistler and it's such a treat to have the Sea to Sky highway all to yourself and your fellow riders. I've done it the last two years and am excited to go again! UPDATE: Removed from the list; focused on rehab post-IMC.

    October 31Noosa Triathlon Multi Sport Festival‘C’ priority. This one was a surprise as I got in off a waitlist! A trip to Australia is on the cards for this year and it will be awesome to race close to my family and have them come along to be a part of the festival. And it's a bit of a dream come true: I've known about the Noosa Tri since I was a kid; it's a real gem on the international triathlon circuit and I always thought it would be cool to race that 'some day'. This year's the year!

    The last few months of the year will likely involve an additional Ironman (Cozumel?) and / or Ironman 70.3 race (potentially one in the 'States...). More to come! I’ll post updates here; as well, I'll add links to race reports as I write them.

    The Intrepid Stage Ride: That's Racing! by Jonas Caruana

    September 25-27: The Intrepid is a three day stage race in the Okanagan. It's one of the premier road cycling events in western Canada, put on by the same folks that run RBC GranFondo Whistler. The experience was really something special: rides were fully supported with massages after every stage, it was fully catered with great food, and run by an amazing event team for whom no ask seemed too onerous. Unintentionally, I ended up putting this to the test, because as it turned out, it was quite an eventful three days...

    Stage 1: Penticton–Osoyoos. 115km / 1,708m elevation gain

    Home base was Penticton and the first day's riding would see us roll north alongside Okanagan Lake, warming up the legs before turning around and heading south past Skaha Lake on the way down to Osoyoos, by the US border.

    On the first day everyone's excited and a bit antsy to get things underway. The flip side of this is that some can be a little too social in the bunch and not be paying enough attention. About half way through the stage, some guys up ahead of me got lazy, touched wheels and three of 'em came down right in front – it was an unavoidable scene and while I managed to bury some speed I came down too. The one thought I had in my mind was "pick a different spot pick a different spot!" (crashes seem to happen in slow-mo), thinking about the fact that only a few weeks prior, I was taken out in another race in California, and the road rash from that spill had only just healed over.

    Cherry on the left: California, Aug 29. Cherry on the right: Intrepid, Sep 25.

    Cherry on the left: California, Aug 29. Cherry on the right: Intrepid, Sep 25.

    Thankfully, no-one was seriously hurt and there was no major damage to my bike (or so I thought – more on that in Stage 2...). With that being my second crash in one month (neither my fault), and having never crashed on my road bike ever before September 2015, I was definitely not stoked with my luck. That said, that's racing and part of it is rolling with the punches, which means getting back up, straightening out your equipment and getting on with the race.

    I had a plan to execute. Hills tend to be a natural separation point in most road races and the big one in Stage 1 was appropriately named "The Wall": 1.5km of 9% average grade and a total ball-buster with a couple of 20% pitches thrown in. Naturally, this was also the KOM segment for the stage and myself and about five other guys attacked it hard. At the top was a checkpoint with an aid station (where you could stop and refuel) but for an opportunistic few we rolled right through slowing only to communicate our race numbers before continuing the attack, in hopes of further separating ourselves from the bunch.

    Within a few minutes I found myself with two others working together as a three-man breakaway with 45km to go. We knew that if we stayed away from the bunch we only had each other to worry about at the finish and it was at this point of the day that I really started having fun. It's really an awesome thing when you find yourself racing with a couple other strong riders, pace-lining seamlessly and just absolutely flying down the road. It's exhilarating. 

    This sense of team is awesome until it naturally dissipates in the final few kilometres as – knowing the pack is too far back to be of concern, you're competitors once again and it's now a game of cat and mouse... who's gonna make the jump; who can out-sprint who for the line.

    In the end it was a bit anticlimactic as frankly, I didn't quite recognise the finish line flags and didn't time my sprint right – but finished right on the wheel of the stage winner and and happily took second overall for the day.

    Stage 2: 152km / 2,645m elevation gain and a catastrophic mechanical failure

    "Everyone has a plan 'til you get punched in the face" – right? My race plan for stage two barely got started as once again, about half-way into the day, calamity struck. Something happened to my chain: I still don't know whether it was a rock, a stick or something else, but the chain jammed, snapped, somehow wrapped itself around my rear derailleur and then tore the thing right off my bike. No joke: the derailleur hanger was torn clean in half, as was the derailleur cable. Worse, the chain wrapped itself around the cluster a number of times and then ground out the inside of the carbon stays... not awesome.

    That's racing!

    Indeed, a "catastrophic failure" and the Venge (my primary bike) was out of commission. The bunch rolled on and I knew from that point, it was going to be a quiet day of solo riding and trying not to lose too much time in the overall classification. Thankfully, the Velofix van was 5 minutes behind and one of the race volunteers gave me his personal bike to finish the day on (these guys really pulled out all the stops to keep you going and get you home). It was a long 78km riding a 54cm bike solo into the headwinds (getting aero... not so much, ha!), but I was grateful to be riding and simply to be able to finish the day.

    Lots of speculation ensued (no-one had ever seen a derailleur torn right off a bike and spat out the back!!) as to whether something on my bike took a hit in the crash the day before, and that might have contributed to the mechanical / structural failure. Who knows. UPDATE: we later found that the derailleur itself was damaged in the crash on Day 1, which ultimately contributed to the chain fail on Day 2. 

    Stage 3: Osoyoos–Penticton. 122km / 2,597m elevation gain

    The goal was 'uneventful'. "I want an uneventful day today!", I told my fellow riders and the event crew (all of whom had been incredibly helpful and supportive). After the last two days, I was keen for an injury-free, mechanical-free ride. I was on a spare bike (I'd actually brought a spare – who brings a spare?!) but left it in Penticton, thinking to myself "I'm never going to need that!" Sure enough, on the afternoon of day two I was in a van with one of the event team driving back to Penticton to grab it. This once again exemplified the greatness of the event team – it was no hassle; they were absolutely amazing.

    Back to day three: the thing about my primary bike – the Venge – is that I've worked with Noa Deutsch to get it fit just perfectly to my body and all its imbalances. Bike fit is crucial because it enables you to hop on a bike and perform a very repetitive motion for a long time without overly stressing anything biomechanically. So jumping on a different bike, with a fatigued body, for a day that would include the longest climb of the race... was going to require a different approach.

    So the plan was: go easy until the base of Apex mountain, hit it on the climb, then keep pushing all the way home on the descent into Penticton. This turned out to be a really nice approach, as the lead bunch wasn't really driving the pace on the third day, as was the case on the previous two days. It gave a chance to ride with some folks whom I'd not had the chance to ride with, and also, a bit of time to soak in the beautiful scenery of the Okanagan. It really was stunning; early on in the day, we were rolling through the hills and were lucky to be joined by some wild mustangs, who criss-crossed the road from time to time and kept us all on high alert! Wild beasts, hillsides, sunrise, bikes... I couldn't have been happier.

    The coveted "Leader" socks – for winning the Soloist category on Day 3

    The coveted "Leader" socks – for winning the Soloist category on Day 3

    Once we hit Apex, it was time for business and a long, hot climb. The descent was tricky too with a few cattle grids to bunny hop at speed which... only gets riskier the more you think about it!

    Then the push home: it's a delightful 20km descent back into Penticton from the turnoff to Apex, but it's only a 2.8% average downgrade, so you need to keep the power on the whole way home. I drove hard and wound up taking the win on the Soloist category for the day. Stoked!

    Overall

    Overall, the mechanical failure in Stage 2 cost me half an hour in the general classification and I finished second in the overall standings. All said and done, I was happy with the weekend, mostly for being able to keep going despite the curve balls. That felt really good mentally and I was proud to have kept my head up, stayed strong and done the best with the cards I had to play.

    The Intrepid was a great weekend. Great challenge having to back up day after day ; that was my first stage race. And, fun to do that with some wrenches thrown in the wheels, so to speak... that's racing, and I'm looking forward to doing another stage race in the future!

    Note: photo credits in this post are almost all due to The Intrepid and their stellar event photographers (look for the watermark). Thanks again guys.

    Subaru Vancouver Half-Ironman: Always Wear Socks by Jonas Caruana

    2014-07-22-at-15-35-32.jpg
    Very important piece of race kit: the trucker hat!

    Very important piece of race kit: the trucker hat!

    The Subaru Vancouver Triathlon was my first big “A” race of the year. I’d trained for the better part of five months with this race in mind, logging about 160 hours of swimming, biking and running; training over about 20 weeks. That time also included a series of prep races, including my very first triathlon (see Shawnigan Lake Olympic post).

    So it was funny when the half-Iron weekend rolled around and all things considered, I felt pretty calm about it and mostly, excited. I mean, compared to the Olympic, I only had to swim an extra 500m (we've previously established this is not yet a strong suit) and in return, I got to ride my bike more than twice as far (I love the bike!); and same for the run. I was basically thinking that I had more than double the time to make up for slowness in the water – and I was stoked about it.

    We're going to break this recap down simply into wins and misses. Here goes!

    Wins:

    The day: just look at it!

    In terms of conditions? Can't ask for much better than this!

    The swim: I didn’t want to tap out once. This is progress when compared to my experience in the water at Shawnigan. I didn’t feel stressed or panicked. I just got in the water and got ‘er done. I even enjoyed it. It was not fast: 43mins-ish. I swam breaststroke for more than 90% of it. But I felt good coming out of the water, running across the beach toward transition whilst stripping down my wetsuit and thinking about the game plan for the bike. All the right thoughts were flowing!

    The transitions: I freakin’ nailed those transitions! At Shawnigan, T1 took me 5:03 and T2 took 2:20. Experienced triathletes look at that and say “those are whole minutes of free time for the taking. Take them!". So I bought some triathlon cycling shoes, learned the flying mount and dismount, and got everything else together so the amount of time I needed to be in transition was minimized. Result? T1 time down from 5:03 to 2:01, and T2 time down from 2:20 to 1:08. So pumped!

    The bike: I rode a controlled effort on the bike with the plan of feeling fresh for the run so I could clock negative-splits through the half-marathon. Plan executed. This took discipline, because I love to open it up on the bike.

    What a backdrop to race against!

    Overall execution of race strategy: finished the swim feeling good, controlled the bike and set up perfectly for the run: felt fresh, fuelled and ready to fly.

    Misses:

    The swim: still the biggest area for improvement. My strongest swimming peer came out of the water in 25 mins! (Me: over 43 mins!) Now, he used to be a ranked, competitive college athlete. My goal is to get a 1.9k swim time under the 30 mark.

    Nutrition on the bike: the exact same nutrition I had used on the bike in training on the actual race course, didn’t work exactly as planned. Race conditions are a different game: your body is in a heightened state of stress and that translated to me dry heaving on lap 1 when I tried to eat the first energy bar. At this point in the race you really want to start getting calories in the tank. But I took a break from trying to eat, let the stomach settle down and switched to liquid calories which worked well. Got the solids down later, but also subbed out an energy bar for a bottle of the on-course Gatorade and – having done the mental math to ensure I’d get in enough calories – was good for the rest of the day. This actually turned into a big win because it represented being able to successfully switch up strategies on the fly and keep going strong.

    Salt on the run: I cramped the last 3k. Not badly, but if you have to slow down because the cramp is that strong, that’s not good. It was a stinking hot day, and the heat radiated down from above and up off the bright, white, crushed sandy beach path. I underestimated just how much salt I’d lose. Needed more.

    SOCKS: nope, didn’t wear socks on the run. FAIL! Funny this, because it was actually a choice (I didn’t forget). I was so committed to dropping my T2 time that I decided I didn’t have time for socks. Epic. Mistake. Hot day, wet shoes, swollen feet, sand in the shoes, and no socks had me feelin’ that blister feeling at kilometre 4. The remaining kilometres were excruciating! This is evidenced by the following race photos. First two photos: Jonas heading out onto the run course. Light, bright and feelin’ mighty. Later on... Jonas on the second half of the run. Every foot placement was just… pain. I ran across the finish line, and went straight to the med-tent to get wrapped up. And my good friend Audra piggy-backed me outta there.

    The run: with my feet in bad shape, I couldn’t amp up the pace to run negative splits as I’d planned. A 1:39:15 ain’t bad, but it could have been a lot better as otherwise, my body felt great and ready to turn it up.

    Results:

    • Swim (1.9km): 43:17
    • T1: 2:01
    • Bike (90km): 2:38:34
    • T2: 1:08
    • Run (20km): 1:39:15
    • Total: 5:04:15

    If I were to adjust for the shorter run and add 1.1km at average race pace (4:57/km), I'd get a run time of 1:44:27 and a total race time of 5:09:12. That's useful for future comparisons.

    Overall, it was a solid second triathlon, a great first half-Ironman, and a total win from a goal-setting standpoint. My goal was to come in somewhere between five and five and a half hours and stopping the clock at 5:04:15 was a rockin’ time, even more so knowing that with some strategic tweaks (i.e. wearing socks) and skill acquisition (swimming), times in the mid- 4 hour range start to become possible. That’s exciting!

    Thank-yous and shout-outs:

    Extra special thank-yous go out to friends and loved ones who dragged their butts out of bed to come and cheer me on, early on a Sunday:

    • Syd: my #1 fan who came back from LA just for race weekend!
    • Training buddies Juliet & Greg: to Juliet who stuck around to cheer me on after having finished her race, and to Greg for yelling extra loud! I kicked a little extra every time I saw your yelling faces!
    • Tim Schokking: seeing you up at the main intersection of the bike leg was something I looked forward to each out-and-back. You da bomb!
    • ‘Bomber’ Kevin, Paul Cross and the VEC crew: thanks for welcoming me into the club tent even though I wasn’t yet a member (stoked to be rolling with you now!)
    • All the friends who couldn’t be physically present but who sent messages of support and encouragement
    • The lulu crew: the loudest, brightest, funnest looking group of cheerers ever. Special shoutout to Chrissy Abram who made it out, crotches and swollen knee be damned!
    • Audra for piggy backing me back to the car after having my blisters patched up in the medical tent. You’re the best! IOU: 1x piggy back wherever and whenever you need.
    • Michelle Armstrong: such a pleasant surprise to see you on what became a pretty quiet part of the bike course!
    • Shout-out to all the folks from lululemon (past and present) who also competed: Juliet Korver, Colin Knudsen, Jon Carkner, Scott Van Doormaal, Laurel Richardson, Jen Cerullo, Felix del Toro, Delaney Schweitzer, Deanne Schweitzer, Eric Peterson, Cindy Bokitch. It was rad seeing you out on the course!

    Lastly, thanks to Ed, Nick and the team at Mighty Riders for being so rad and helping me get my bike position nailed and bike setup just right. You guys are my secret weapon!

    Subaru Shawnigan Lake International Triathlon: My First Tri! by Jonas Caruana

    So Shawni Lake Triathlon was – for me – equal parts excitement (my first tri!), performance of a newly acquired skill (swimming), facing fears (that I’d suck at it and / or potentially drown), practicing what I love (racing), and livin’ a dream. 

    For the longest time I’ve wanted to do a triathlon and not being a swimmer has been the barrier to entry. For whatever reason: busy at work, busy with other projects, busy with life – I didn’t make learning to swim a priority until this year. Aussies also have a particularly strong background in the sport of triathlon, and I can remember as a kid watching triathletes on TV, in awe at how fast they’d swim, how fast they’d ride (and the rocket ships they’d ride!) and how quick they’d run – and that they did that all in one race. I’ve always admired triathletes.

    So this post gives the blow-by-blow of my first triathlon experience. If you’re a first-time triathlete, and in particular, someone who’s struggled with the swim part of the training, I hope that sharing my experience helps you along your path to getting that first triathlon under your belt. And for my friends and family – I finally did it! And here are all the gory details.

    The Work: Learning to Swim

    Think about the last time you tried to learn a skill for which you had absolutely zero prior knowledge or competency. For example, if you’re not a musical person and you’ve tried your hand at guitar, or not an ‘artsy’ person and tried to paint, or not multi-lingual and tried to pick up a foreign language whose letters or sounds bear no resemblance to your native tongue (say, an English speaker trying to learn Mandarin). It’s a humbling experience, right? Because you really have to start at square one, and it’s a while before you hit an inflection point where things start to get dramatically easier, as your learnings begin to compound.

    So it was for me and swimming. It was all the above, with the added fear of being in a completely foreign environment (water) along with maybe drowning each practice. And after 4+ months of being in the pool 3-4 times per week, I’m yet to hit that inflection point. 

    Now, I don’t necessarily have a fear of water – I love pools, the beach, diving in and swimming around. But I lack the kind of confidence that comes from knowing I can be self-sufficient  (i.e. stay afloat without any help) in the water for an extended period of time. 

    December 2013: At the Vancouver Aquatic Centre with Coach Therèse from the BC Dolphins

    And that was the work these last few months. Getting in the pool. Developing a new sense: “you must feel the water!” Coach Therèse would urge me, “Press down on the water; pull the water!” Easier said than done, lady! Hearing those words and translating that to what you actually do in the water felt hard and frustrating. It didn’t come naturally. My first reaction was to work harder: kick harder, pull my arms through the water faster, take bigger breaths. It seemed like the harder I tried, the worse it got. The coaching? “Relaaax in the water!”. Huh? I’m fighting for survival out here!!

    So I found swimming really counter-intuitive. As compared to most other athletic pursuits where harder, faster and stronger usually gets better results, swimming – at least when you’re learning – is the exact opposite. Because as soon as you try to strong arm your way to the other end of the pool, everything falls apart with a rapid, domino-like effect: you tense up, which causes your body to sink in the water, which creates more drag, which makes it harder to move forward, which makes you fatigue faster and need more air, which makes you panic a little, and now everything’s gone to hell! 

    Listen up, beginners! (Can't believe I'm about to say this.) Truly, the work in learning to swim is really about learning not to fight it, but to feel it: to tune in and work with the water, and really develop a sense for how to move through it. Stick with it, even if it feels like the slowest progress, session after session. Do your drills. I hate some of those damn drills, but they teach you building blocks and they do add up over time. You will get there!

    Personally, I have a long way to go. But the good news is I like eating humble pie and every time I jump in the water I get a big ‘ol serve of it! And before I knew it, the weekend of May 25th – Subaru Shawnigan Lake Triathlon – had arrived. Time to jump into the lake and see what happens. Here’s how the day went!

    Goals for the Day

    Target times for the Olympic distance:

    • Swim: 35mins
    • T1: 3mins
    • Bike: 1h 5mins
    • T2: 2mins
    • Run: 45mins
    • Total: 2h 30mins

    Intention: most of all, the day was about getting that first triathlon under my belt. First, I wanted to get it done. I borrowed a friend’s goals here: “Don’t get pulled from the water because you’re drowning, and don’t get pulled from the water because you’re outta time.” Thanks Robert!  Second, I wanted to notice everything I needed to notice so I could learn for next time – there’s a lot going on in a triathlon. And third – perhaps most of all – I wanted to finish the day thinking “That was fun and I want to do it again!”

    Pre-race

    The day before the race is pre-race briefing and bike check-in. You learn a ton of tricks just by watching and listening. Your bike’s outside overnight. What if it rains? Turns out there are bike-fitting ‘raincoats’. Hot temperatures forecasted? Let some air out of your tyres so they don’t blow out. Gear selection: put it into take-off gear straight up. You won’t be riding it ’til you’re flying out of T1 tomorrow anyway. Where do I stash my gear bag on race day? Along the fence, where everyone else will be stashing theirs. You’ll pick up a ton of helpful tips that first race.

    With all the pre-race stuff done, it was time to get an early night, and get ready for…

    Race Day

    Tip: have a race-morning routine planned. Everything from the breakfast you will eat and the clothes you will wear, to how you’ll get to the race site and how much time you’ll need for body marking, setting up your gear by your bike, getting into your wetsuit (this still takes me the better part of 20mins) and warming up in the water. The more planned this is, the less curve balls you’ll have that will stress you out. 

    Because before you know it, you’ll be shuffling down the bank to the water’s edge with everyone else, and it’s game time…

    That’s me hanging out at the back of the men’s wave. Red caps = Men. White caps = Women. Bright orange caps = beginners!

    The Swim

    Here we go! The gun goes off and I let the men’s wave go off in front of me. I wait around a bit because I want some clear water - doing 1,500m is still a challenge for me without the open water wrestling involved! 

    See that orange cap looking around? That might be me...

    Straight up: the swim was rough. Lots of new sensations: first time in my wetsuit (oh the buoyancy!), first time in open water (zoiks! So murky!), first time swimming with all those people around (the women’s wave caught up to me reeeal quick). Beginners, practice in that wetsuit in open water before game day. I knew this beforehand but didn’t do it for a variety of reasons.... lesson learned.

    There are waves in my face, goggles are fogging up (making it hard to see the buoys, and you really want to swim the shortest line possible). Lots of things that could make you tense up and forget everything you’ve learned in the pool. Which is exactly what happens. 

    About 150m in, I have a mini-freak out: someone brushes up against me, I turn to breathe and suck in a wave of water. In a split-second of wetsuit-constricted choking and spluttering I’m really panicked. A wave of emergency thoughts flood my head: “Man you are WAY out of your depth! Stick to biking! Today is not your day. Do I go back?!”. At which point, the rational brain kicks in with “Dude, you couldn’t sink in this wetsuit if you tried. Caaalm the heck down. Just keep moving your arms. Keep moving forward. Get to the buoy!”

    Happy to feel terra firma under my feet!

    So having rounded the first buoy, about 280m from shore, I swim over to the safety paddle boarder and hang on for a break (it’s legal so long as the object you’re clinging to isn’t providing propulsion). It feels like minutes but I need to reset and regroup mentally. By this point, the women’s wave – which had started three minutes after the men’s – has passed me for the most part and there is less traffic in the water. Time to go again.

    I swim to the next buoy; hang on to another boarder for a break. Regroup, reset. I’m really working hard; at the same time, trying to relax, knowing that will help me go faster. I also start to realize that this is the ‘worst’ part of the day, and that I don’t get to bike if I wuss out, and I really want to ride. So it’s non-stop from that point on. 

    I probably swam breast stroke for 95% of the swim, and finish it in 34:43. No shame in that though: I’m stoked simply to have covered the distance, in that water, in race conditions. Mission accomplished!

    T1 (transition from swim to bike)

    Getting out of the water, I’m a bit disoriented and wobbly (experienced triathletes say this is due to the blood being in your upper body, not your legs), and my body feels kinda shocked.

    Struggling to get the wetsuit off before I reach the bike!

    That said, I’ve effin’ made it and stoked about it! I walk from the beach to the bike – need a minute to reset and make sure I set up properly for the ride, and that I don’t do anything dumb like break a rule (clip the helmet, then unrack the bike) or forget my timing chip. So I take my time and get everything right, but it eats the clock: T1 time = 5:03. 

    Mentally, things were turning around fast: “Ok race: you owned me out in the water. I’m gonna own you out on the road.” #letsdothis

    The Bike

    The course was a hilly, two-lap ride around Shawnigan Lake, which actually totalled about 44km (standard Olympic distance is 40km). It was raining, the roads were bumpy and patchy in places, and the course wasn’t closed to the public, so there was occasional traffic and I got stuck behind a car for the longest descent of Lap 1 which sucked. 

    But dammit I enjoyed that ride! My legs felt strong, I was moving fast and just chewing up people on the course. My ride position felt awesome, thanks to working with the fit master Ed at Mighty Riders in Vancouver. Beginner tip: get your bike fit by someone that knows what they’re doing! I have a Specialized Venge and at first, got the official Specialized BG Bike Fit done… which was fine, but that set me up as if I were an inflexible 50-year old. Ed got me set up like a racer: lengthening me out on the bike, getting me low and out of the way of the wind.

    Now, the bike’s my favourite leg and when I’m on those two wheels I don’t think too much because I’m having such a blast. What I tried to keep in mind was fuelling (I had a couple gels to get down before the run), and some advice another racing friend – Erin Llewyk – gave me “Remember this ain’t a bike race – ride it strong, but leave plenty for the run. Because it’s even more fun smokin’ people on the run!”. It’s good advice.

    It was a great ride with beautiful scenery and locals out cheering which I’m always grateful for. And after 1:15:23, the bike was done and it was time to run.

    T2 (transition from bike to run)

    Coming off the bike, I noticed my feet were really cold – I didn’t wear shoe covers or toe-thingys on the bike (though I did wear socks) and with the wet conditions and wind chill (temp was about 10ºC), the front half of my feet were numb. “Ok take it easy first part of the run – find your running legs and go from there”. I was checked-in and ready to rumble. This transition was a lot quicker at 2:20 and I felt good going into the run.

    The Run

    The first kilometre was slow: a stiff uphill climb out of transition to the Trans Canada Trail trailhead, whilst getting my running legs under me. At this point in the race, I’d learned a ton and more than anything, wanted to finish the race feeling awesome – so rather than pushing the pace to 4:00/km and saving 5 mins on the race clock, I settled into a nice 4:25-4:30 pace, started smiling and enjoyed the race to the end.

    Results

    The bike ended up being a little over 4kms longer than expected, which at my average speed (~35km/h) added about 7mins, meaning I wasn’t far off my total goal time. Transition times need to come down as I could save whole minutes there without much work. 

    Overall? I felt awesome coming across that line: a big personal goal achieved and one that did not come easy. I felt great (plenty of room for improvement next time!), learned a ton and most importantly, didn’t realize exactly how much I’d enjoy piecing together those five different bits together (Swim, T1, Bike, T2, Run) into one race. It really is a challenge and involves more than just a little bit of strategy!

    With racing buddy Juliet Korver. This lady is fast!

    The best thing? I discovered that the triathlon community is overwhelmingly inclusive, helpful and just plain nice! I asked a million questions and got a million helpful answers. And the Shawnigan Lake folks were awesome: just so kind and friendly; they put on a great race. I’d definitely do it again.

    Shout-outs to racing friends Juliet Korver and Colin Knudy, who also crushed it out there at Shawnigan. It was wicked seeing you out on the course and trading stories on the ferry home.

    Last but not least: huuuge thanks to my #1 fan Syd, who braved the cold and rain for 4+ hours to cheer me on and snap a ton of photos. You da bomb!

    The next race? Four weeks today: Subaru Vancouver Half-Ironman.

    The 2014 Vancouver Sun Run 10k: 30 Years Running by Jonas Caruana

    Today was the Vancouver Sun Run, the second race on my schedule for the year. It’s one of the largest races in North America – in this, its 30th year, over 45,000 people attended. The Sun Run has been a race I’ve wanted to do ever since I first visited Vancouver back in 2011. I’d seen all these signs and made a mental note to one day, come back and race it. Today was that day!

    2014 Sun Run Course Map

    It’s a downtown course with enough elevation to keep things interesting (including one special kicker up Hornby before hooking onto the bridge).

    And today was a great day for it: somewhat overcast, cool, and the rain stayed at bay for the most part.

    The sheer size of the event lends to the sense of occasion: the six-lanes wide, arterial West Georgia Street is converted into a half-dozen runner corrals that stretch over five city blocks. Each corral is colour coded and giant balloon arches float above helping runners find where they should be.

    Whoever sang “Oh Canada” had the voice of an angel. There’s something about a national anthem that rouses people. You hear voices you’d never expect, and a different look comes over people’s faces. I like to think those looks are mostly of pride and gratitude. That’s what I feel in those moments (and Canada’s not even my birth country). Because it’s not lost on me that a lot of people gave a lot so that I could show up today on this cool Vancouver morning to chase down a fast time. There’s something special about that shared moment - the energy shifts somehow and you feel a sense of resonance. You feel connected to thousands of people you don’t even know. I always get a little emotional in those moments - I feel grateful for every start line and the connection it enables between me and all those people who also showed up to do their best. I’m grateful to participate with them.

    Race Mantras

    I had three ‘mantras’ for today:

    1. I am ready to hurt
    2. I run my own race
    3. I am injury free

    And goal times:

    • Under 40mins = good outcome
    • Under 39 = great outcome
    • ‘Dream time’ = 38:30

    The first mantra was about leaving the house ready to go where I knew I’d need to go mentally in the latter half of the race when I knew I’d be suffering. It was also a learning from the B&O 5k I raced in Toronto last year where I set a tough time goal but didn’t leave the house willing to hurt as much as I’d need to to achieve it. I got that right today and declared my willingness to dig into the hurt locker from the moment I swung my feet out of bed this morning. My good friend and triathlete buddy Juliet Korver sent me a message that was right on point:

    The second mantra was a reminder to stick to the plan and run my race and no-one else’s. This isn’t revolutionary thinking but time after time, I’ve told myself this before the race, the gun goes off and it’s like my lizard brain takes over and the plan goes out the window. All the sudden I’m trying to keep up with this or that guy who’s up ahead or running past me. So today was yet another exercise in the never ending practice of learning to run my own race... "Stick to the plan, man."

    Running my own race is also about ownership: everything that happens today is 100% mine. Everything I did do, and did not do. I can’t explain away poor performances with “Oh, I tried to keep up with this one guy and that just blew me out for the last part of the race”. As if trying to keep up with someone were in some way, an admirable strategy for running a race and a fair reason for not doing as well as you’d hoped. Running my own race is thinking that also calms me down at the start line - because now it doesn’t matter what everyone else does: all that matters for my race is me, my goals, and my plan to achieve them. Then the execution, and the outcomes. With that kind of ownership you really set yourself up to learn from each race and improve for the next one.

    The third mantra was about staying checked in to my body throughout the race. As things start to really hurt I can sometimes focus too much on handling the hurt in my head and forget about how I’m placing my feet, relaxing my shoulders, leaning forward and just scanning my body and reminding myself “we’re good”. I’d also had a week of the 'tweaks’. My right knee had this weird tweak to it, my left hip felt tight and kept mini-cramping, my right shoulder had an annoying click to it. Sometimes you can over focus on those little niggling things and make them into something they’re not. This mantra reminded me to stay checked-in to my body, and if I did that, I knew I’d have the best chance of an injury free day. 

    So how’d it go?

    A few pacing reminders

    A few pacing reminders

    Well, the 1st km was about getting the heart rate going and finding my legs. Don’t go crazy, don’t get held up in traffic. That all happened.

    Kilometres 2-5 were about staying strong and steady, and not burning too many matches. That mostly happened, though I might have still gone a little too hard for this point of the race. 

    Kilometre 6: deal with the Hornby climb and Burrard Bridge. Basically, run it strong but not so strong that it causes unnecessary lactate build-up. Check. Pain level is climbing. Also somewhere around here my heart rate strap started acting up. I’d just come up an incline and my watch said I was at 109, and I knew that couldn’t be right. While I don’t hang off the HR numbers, I use them as a sense check for how I’m feeling vs. where my body’s at.

    Kilometres 7-9: now we’re hurting pretty good. My lungs and torso felt strained. I go to some not great places mentally. I actually considered stepping off the gas significantly to catch a break. My version of “The Blerch” – what my favourite funny cartoonist The Oatmeal calls it - was saying all sorts of unhelpful stuff around being unprepared, under-rested, etc. Thankfully, this was also that part of the race that I’d decided I was willing to hurt through so you just push on. I did not enjoy it. 

    Last km: Paaain! Time to lift – and get that last km split back down under 4 mins. I’m stoked to see that finish line; my whole body is well past the red line. I’m toast.

    Results:

    Final times: chip time 40:32, 10k time on Strava 39:49. For me, knowing I can run 10k in under 40 at this point in the season is what I care about – so I go off Strava time and consider my ‘good’ time goal as having been achieved. Clearly I have work to do on hitting that ‘dream time’ – there is speed work in the near future…

    Thank-you Strava!

    Thank-you Strava!

    And goals 2 and 3? Check and check. I didn’t pace off anyone else. I noticed people passing and said to myself “that’s ok”. Checked-in with my own pace and carried on. And I was constantly scanning my body and separating the good hurt from the bad hurt – of which there was none. 

    Post-race. Glad to be done.

    Post-race. Glad to be done.

    As for the race itself, it was well organized in that they got all the basics right (chip timing, corralling of competitors, gear check and pick-up, course signage and marshalling) but no points for surprise and delight. Email communications could have been better (more clear and concise); they ran out of my size of competitor shirt (but, being plain cotton and not exactly awesome it wasn’t anything to feel miffed about missing out on). At $50 for entry into one of North America’s biggest 10k races, I felt like it was good value and I’d definitely do it again. 

    The next race is a big one: my first solo triathlon; the Olympic distance at the Subaru Shawnigan Lake Triathlon.

    Onwards.

    2014 Race Schedule: The Year of the Triathlon! by Jonas Caruana

    Ragnar Relay Niagara, Ontario: one of my favourite races in 2013!

    So this is the year of the triathlon. I’ve talked about making myself into a triathlete for the longest time. I’ve always loved the bike, and have become a respectable runner, but put me in a pool and I’m out for the count after 50m. This is the year that changes!

    Structuring a Race Schedule

    I followed the race planning ideas in Joe Friel’s “Triathlete’s Training Bible”, which basically says your races fall into three categories: ‘C’ races are done for experience, as hard workouts, as tests of progress, or simply, for fun. You train through these races and don’t ‘peak’ or rest up for them.

    ‘B’ races aren’t as important as ‘A’ races; you won’t build to a peak for them but you might plan to rest up for a few days beforehand. I like to think of ‘B’ races as preparing you in some specific way for your ‘A’ races.

    ‘A’ races are what you plan your season’s training around - they are the races most important to you in the year.

    Priorities; Trade-offs and Getting Real

    What made scheduling this year tough was letting go of two races that I was really attached to doing: Ironman Canada in Whistler, and a lead-up race for it, the Oliver Half. I was attached because most of my fellow triathletes were gunning for this one-two combo, and I thought it would be a ton of fun to share those specific race experiences together. That said, two big considerations were front and centre for me: race readiness and financial priorities.

    First, I was concerned about my ability to get race ready for an Ironman distance swim by mid-year. I was starting from zero competency in the pool, and, having struggled with trying to acquire that skill previously, I wasn’t certain that I was going to be able to pull something magic out of the bag and be ready on time. There’s a time to be ambitious and set stretch goals, and there’s a time to get real. After a couple of starter sessions in the pool, I got very real about how much work would be required.

    Second, the financial commitment of Ironman is significant, and adds up to a lot more than just the $700 registration for your ‘A’ race, by the time you factor in everything involved with getting ready for it and getting to it.

    And third, I approach my races as opportunities to compete - not just participate. That’s a personal choice born out of a motivation to test my own physical limits and compare them to peers: so showing up and just getting through an event isn’t something I’m up for. When I show up, I show up to race.

    So all that considered, I came around to letting go of IM Canada and the Oliver Half, and opened up to other possibilities - which turned out to be awesome.

    Here’s how my race season is shaping up….

    The Races

    April 12: MEC 10k; ‘C’ priority. Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) has a race series that’s relatively new and really well done: they’re organized, chip-timed, and best of all, $15 a pop. Athletes talk a lot about the importance of race-day experience so I’m doing a couple of the MEC events as training races. I wanted to ‘break the seal’ on my race season early in the year, get back into the race-day mindset and this 10k was a low-stakes, easy way to do it. Also, getting that first start line under your belt early only helps build the sense of urgency and resolve around your training plan for your ‘A’ race – you’re really in it now.

    April 27: Sun Run 10k; ‘C’ priority. The Vancouver Sun Run is one of the largest races in North America and this is its 30th year. I’ve wanted to run this race ever since I first visited Vancouver back in 2011 and this year is the year! See my race report here.

    May 25: Subaru Shawnigan Lake Triathlon, Olympic distance; ‘B’ priority. my first solo triathlon, this is where I will go through all the motions of a full triathlon for the first time. I’m excited! People in Vancouver rave about Shawnigan Lake and I’m told the course – which is in and around the lake – is beautiful. Stoked!

    June 8: MEC Half-Marathon; ‘B’ priority. Another training race, my goals for this race won’t be around speed so much as good form, comfort and confidence over half-marathon distance. Because next time, it will be after having swam 2k and ridden 90. Five weeks later will be…

    July 13: Subaru Vancouver Triathlon, Half-Ironman distance; ‘A’ priority. This is the big one! What I’m structuring my training around for the first half of the year. It’s on the home turf and the course is very spectator friendly. This is going to be a wicked summer race!

    September 6: RBC Granfondo Whistler; ‘B’ priority. For me this falls into the must-do-as-a-Vancouverite category. It’s an opportunity ride the Sea to Sky highway all the way up to Whistler, taking in the views with a couple thousand other cyclists. YES!

    November 2: New York Marathon; ‘A’ priority. This one was a surprise. I was originally planning on doing the Malibu Marathon this year as my first ever marathon – my friend Blue Benadum puts on this race and I couldn’t imagine a better event for my first marathon. But at the beginning of the year, another friend – Sam Sykes – says “I’ve got an entry to the New York Marathon this year. Why don’t you throw your name in the lottery and maybe we could run it together?”. And the next thing I knew, I’d won a spot in the TCS New York City Marathon. New York baby!

    I’ll post updates here if anything changes - it’s highly likely I might pick up another race or two!

    UPDATE: I didn’t do the MEC Half-Marathon on June 8. I’d just come back from some travels, felt I was in good shape preparations-wise for the half-Iron on July 13, and decided I needed rest more than half-marathon race practice.

    UPDATE: Added a race. September 1: Stanley Park Triathlon, Olympic distance; ‘B’ priority. This one’s for fun: home turf, on the ol’ stompin’ ground. YESSS!

    Colour me crazy, “Color Me RAD”! by Jonas Caruana

    Imagine a 5K run where they don’t bother giving you a timing chip, nor organising you into time-segmented corrals despite thousands of participants at the start line. Instead, you’re instructed to turn up in your tennis whites, ready to get clobbered by The Colour Bomb Squad. Losing would mean finishing the race clean. Winning happens to those who come out looking like a tie-dyed hippy batting flecks of coloured corn starch from their eyelashes. This is “Color Me Rad”.

    Colo(u)r Me Rad is a ridiculously fun event – we had such a blast! Check out the video above to see the action. Shout out to the crew from Dave’s Run Club at Lululemon St. Catherine, and to the peeps at my Lululemon store on Greene Avenue (where I’m a proud Ambassador). So cool running with you guys!

    Now, this was a proper event after all and for the record, a well executed operation. Packet pick-up was a breeze. The staffers were cool.  The official race shirt is a casual cotton tee with a sweet design – I’ll actually wear it. We also got some cool sunnies and a “RAD” temporary tattoo. The event course was well marked. Plenty of Porta Potties at the start. I didn’t use the coatcheck, but it was available, for free. Starting and finishing at the Olympic Stadium gave the event a cool backdrop. All in all, solid marks for a well-run event.

    Now, a few tips for those who plan to do an event like this:

    • Don’t come planning to “run a good time”. You’ll have to time yourself for starters, and more importantly, you’ll be missing the point. Get a crew of friends together and come ready to get messy!
    • There are a lot of people and believe it or not, you kinda can’t rely on getting lucky to get coated with colour. If you wanna come out looking like you just went to war against an army of Skittles, get in front of the volunteers who are hurling colour powder and shout for some love. They’ll happily oblige. Sometimes with an entire box of it.
    • Bring a waterproof / dirtproof camera so you can capture the action and some priceless shots on the course. I ran with a GoPro Hero HD. A ton of people carried their smartphones in ziplock bags which worked fine. A few carried smartphones without ziplock bags. Not sure those phones still work…

    You might be wondering how you clean all that colour off. Well, it comes off pretty easily, but 36 hours post-race and my buddy Dave’s inner ear is still stubbornly blue and my feet look like they’ve actually been tie-dyed. It’s not for lack of scrubbing, let me tell you. Oh, and we’re still blowing blue boogers! Might sound gross, but it’s kinda like what you’d get if you surfed a rainbow and got dunked – souvenirs of a great day.

    Would I recommend? Absolutely. It was Canadian Thanksgiving (Sunday, October 7th) and getting together with a big crew of mates to run and laugh our heads off was the perfect way to get it started. And, looking back over the 2012 race season which included obstacle raceshalf marathons and other more intense physical challenges, this was a fun way to cap it off before we start thinking about winter sports.

    Dave, TK and me

    Dave, TK and me

    Stair Climbing for the Win! by Jonas Caruana

    On the weekend, I participated in the WWF CN Tower Climb: a timed race up the stairs of the CN Tower in Toronto, the tallest freestanding structure in North America at 553.33m.  The event is a fundraiser for the World Wildlife Fund, whom Training Mobs partnered with to help promote and to prepare participants in advance with stair-climbing specific mobs.

    The race itself involves climbing 1,776 stairs; 144 flights. You get sent up in small groups about every minute so as not to clog the stairwell. According to the official results released yesterday morning, there were 4,343 individual times recorded and at 13m 06s, I was 33rd fastest. 

    Going into the race, I’d had limited training, considered myself “out of shape” compared to my personal fitness benchmarks and had no idea how to tackle that many stairs – so this one fell into the “have a crack at it and let’s see how we go” bucket. All I knew was that I seem to cross my anaerobic threshold somewhere around a heart rate of 175 bpm - and that if I blew past that too early, I’d be toast.

    So the first 40 flights I’m thinking “This is a race, I’m gonna run these!” and at a steady but not crazy cadence, am hopping up stairs two at a time, taking a one at a time break every several flights for mini-recovery.

    But when I got to that 40th flight, I was already starting to feel the burn and knew I had to change strategy. So I settled back into a steady stepping between stairs, taking two at a time, and grabbing the rails to help pull myself up. Another guy passed me and I paced up to stay with him, and we went the next 40 flights or so together.

    Having passed the halfway mark and seeing how quickly the flights were going by, I overtook my pacer, urged him to come with me and started to amp things up. Before I knew it I had 20 flights to go and I could hear people shouting at me from above telling me I was almost there, and next thing I knew I was handing my timing card (yep, physical timing card!) off to a volunteer and taking the last few steps to the finish.

    I didn’t go all out at the end because I had to be on my feet and bursting with energy for the next 5 hours of promoting at the Training Mobs stand, so it felt great to finish strong and still have plenty left in the tank; I was nowhere near the puke zone.

    How would I play it differently next time? I’d be steadily stepping - not hopping - between stairs from the beginning. I’d use the rails, and go early to make sure I got a clear stairwell like I did this time. And I’d leave it all on the stairwell and push to the puke zone by the top (I barely spent any time in my anaerobic zone). Next time, my goal is a sub-11 minute time.

    The fastest guy I saw did it in 10:06, and he looked like the kind of guy that would just float up the stairs. He was completely nonchalant about his 10 minute time and calmly mentioned that – given a clear stairwell – he’d easily knock another minute or two off that time. Looking at this guy, I believed him!

    Overall, the event was great. The volunteers were many and all super helpful and nice: I lost count of how many times I was told “great job!” and “thanks for your support”. Small gestures; but they made a huge different to the guest experience. The card-based timing system’s a bit old school but I was told that this year they were testing electronic timing and hopefully next year that’s how they’ll roll for everyone.

    Would I recommend the event? Absolutely. It’s got high novelty factor and I get a total kick out of walking down the streets of Toronto, looking up at the CN Tower and thinking “f*** yeah, I raced up that thing!”. It was also a really cool way to make my very first trip up the Tower – and the view from the top is incredible.

    Worth it. Totally worth it!