Saturday, January 20, 2018

Glowsticks and Pylons, #VegasStrong and Year's End Race - RNR Vegas RR

I wanted to finish the year off in style at Vegas for the Rock and Roll marathon.






2017 Vegas Marathon mirrored very much my experience at 2013 Chicago when Chicago hosted the first marathon major back on US soil after the 2013 Boston marathon attacks. Chicago introduced the clear morning check-in bags and the airport style check-gates into the start. The news of the country concert shootings roughly two months prior to the Vegas RNR event was pretty upsetting. The security surveillance during the race was top notch silently working behind the scenes. I felt goosebumps at the start line when a moment of silence was honoured by the massive gathering. I spotted none other than triathlete Mirinda Carfrae in the tent supporting the hosts to rally the runners. It was prudent to re-locate the starting and finishing festivities away from the Mandalay Bay hotel, and a nice gesture to remove all rock bands for the first 3 miles along that portion of the strip to honour the victims. At the expo, we signed with neon coloured markers for the #VegasStrong poster which was posted up after the first 3-mile mark.


Race started at 4:30pm so it was awfully nice to wake up at reasonable-o-clock. It was a military precision and clockwork to watch the police cars roll in to shut down the entire Vegas Strip. Apparently there were few hundreds of officers and a few snipers on the rooftop to keep us safe. Vegas used to shut down the strip often for private events, now RNR is the only private event to shut the strip down from vehicle traffic. I was impressed!


Of course energetic Jen wanted to do touristie things, so we actually drove to Red Rock Canyon Park in the morning - so much for taper - sigh! We also had to missed the Goo Goo Dolls concert the night before because we had booked our Cirque du Soleil O show during that time. Originally it was meant for Sunday night after the marathon/half. It was probably for the best though for sake of taper.


Flames shot up from the starting gate. You feel a warm blast as you press the button to start your watch.


The half marathon route is pretty much two out and backs which is fast and flat, wide and straight.






This wide straight and painfully obvious navigation ends at the diversion point for the marathoners. After running into the back-roads of the Strip, there was a couple technical sections with more out and backs (or what not to say the least) along the back roads of the strip, too many that I lost track. You can take a stab at accounting for all of them. :P

Between 20 to 31km, it felt more like racing a go-cart and craving the turns.

Between 34 to 38km was the same stretch for the 5km event the day before, it was just an open lot with glowsticks on pylons and disco lights. It felt like a dance party but a lonely one because most had remained on the half distance.




I remember when approaching back on the strip, there was one last out and back section to add more salt to the wounds when seeing the finish line but turning away at kilometre 40.0 to the quiet and a very lonely 500m out and back before making it back onto the strip for the final kilometre finish. Flashback to Zurich ironman when I had to run pass near the sunshine finish gate 8 times to finish! ...#FML!!


My feet was destroyed from all the night running slamming. Perhaps I would had been better off not using the light racing flats and substitute them with a slightly more cushion shoes. A costly mistake.


Sun screen and blisters weren't a problem because the sun was gone and the climate is dry. Not being too familiar with the course can lead to confusion. At one point between the 34-38km, it was like a cat chasing its tail and I got lost for a brief moment passing again a deja vu intersection .


Other than navigational issues, I think knowing the course now would make things easier to save that mental strength for delivering a good pace.


Overall a fantastic experience in the dark, I think Jen is forcing me to do this race again in 2018. Stay tuned. :)
Me before it got dark



Jen checking out zee Bling ware





Friday, December 22, 2017

Yummy Gourmet Chili and the Granville Island Turkey Trot 10K RR

It was nice to stay local for the thanksgiving holidays this year. The Turkey Trot run at Granville Run was my first one, which was long overdue. Jen and I both wanted  to do it for fun after our race in Montreal, which had unseasonably warmer conditions. I wanted to do it mainly for the gourmet food!


The route was a clockwise loop starting and ending at the scenic Granville Island. The first few turns zig-zags a few streets with escort until we reach the Burrard Bridge. After crossing the bridge, we wrap around the seawall.


Overall the route fun and challenging, but I was happy to get out on the nice day. I started a little too quick with the leaders and then settled into a steady 3:50 per km pace. I still felt the burn from the lungs and legs from Montreal.
 




There were people dressed up for the event, which had a prize at the awards. Officially I placed 4th in my 10-year age group, so I went full-on for several rounds of the delicious warm chili's with both vegetarian and meat options.


Funny story, as I was enjoying the chili, the race organizers wanted to expedite the age group awards and presented them in a funny way. Jen placed in one of the top spots for overall female category so we had to stick around. They started calling out all the 3rd place age group finishers by 10 year age groups by genders.


Next was the all the 2nd place age group podium finishers. I was enjoying my chili and counting the number of male 2nd place finishers. There was a man in his 80s that finished and he got a standing ovation, deservingly so. I was secretly judging because there was only 7 people up on stage to collect their medal. One person had missed their chance for glory.



During the presentation, Jen asked one of her friends Hans if they had called up me, and he said yes! While I was pigging out the chili, "ah crap" I realized that the missing person and idiot was me! I learned afterwards than the overall podium leaders were taken out of the age group awards. I was embarrassed that I was caught eating the chili but luckily the race organizers were kind to hand out my medal afterwards. I'm sure this can of course happen to even the best of us. ;)


  

Monday, November 27, 2017

Gruelling Heat + Iconic Run - Montreal RNR half marathon RR


Montreal had unseasonably warm temperatures in late September this year and quite possibly a new 19 year record high. Just our luck, the hotest day may had been race weekend. It was not the greatest of news because the marathon that I had originally planned on doing was cancelled. However there were lots of options available and I had chosen to try my luck in the half distance despite training for the full and still acquire the coveted blings in the series.

Having experienced the 32C heat in this year's Nashville's RNR race (also unseasonably warm race day), this heat in Montreal was a cake walk! Nevertheless the half still presented many challenges. ;) Uh oh for climate change, the unusual heat seems to be a common factor.

The route for the half was a point-to-point course, starting on the scenic bridge Jacques-Cartier. The run takes you immediate down the bridge weaving on two islands, then Montreal's Old Port and finally ending at Parc La Fontaine. The first 14 km is relatively flat and a gradual climb of 40m to the finish. 





Security was top notch. There were concrete barriers placed on the bridge and a parked truck with a driver to block vehicle traffic to the start bridge. Nearly 15K people lined the bridge, but funny that the route jumps off the bridge and into the amusement park and the speedy race track. Surprisenly, the Concorde bridge which connects you from the islands to Montreal's Old Port was fortunately flat.

My boss was raving about the architect, Moshe Safdie, who designed Habitat 67, which we ran by in the race, but I was too focused to catch a glimpse on race day. It was neat seeing it afterwards the next day.
 
We were visiting a few friends in the area and lucky to have Marie-Pier show us around town, who was also racing. We watched Jen's 5k race the day before the half. It was pretty hot that the city trucks were called out to water the plants.

Given my marathon training, I felt like I had one pace on race day. My time was 1:27 and change which reflected a tough day with hot and humid conditions.

MP, Jen and I were going for and achieved the PPP: Prize for Jen, Pool swim for MP, and Poutine for me!


Post race we enjoyed our Bec Cola, poutine, bagels, and smoke meat sandwiches.
Thanks to our hosts, Margo and MP for their warm accommodations. We made some new cat friends at both places. :)







Friday, October 27, 2017

Two Sprints in Two Seasons - Cultus Lake RRs

I was fortunate to have Cultus Lake Triathlon Sprint distance on my calendar twice this year - a June and a September edition! I figured I would blog them together since I'm already pretty behind in my blogging - that was my thinking a month ago. XD

Yup, as part of the popular Dynamic Race Series, it was a no brainer to tact on both of these races especially they are virtually in my back yard. Joe and Angie does a wonderful job keeping all of the races in the series affordable, fun and local. 

Photo Credit: Dynamic Race

Here's a brief preview of the sprint course. 

Swim was one clockwise rectangle, making 3 right turns and then approaching a short run towards the transition where you are greeted with friendly wetsuit pealers. 

Bike was a simple out and back loop from the lake to the town, along Columbia Valley Hwy, sharp turn on Vedder Mountain Road and into town on Yarrow Central Road. The bike has a combination of hills and flat sections, which is great for riders with a variety of skills sets (not just a course for big power nor a great climber). There's a little steep hill on the return to the lake, which brings the heart level up for the run.

Run was part along the beachfront (path leads you literally onto the beach) with two points before coming back onto the roads where you can pick up speed.  

Sprint Course


v1 June Edition

Funny I don't think I've ever had a pink cap before. Here's a glimpse of me. No smiles at the floating swim start.
Photo Credit: Dynamic Race
Photo Credit: Dynamic Race
The age group winner was also in Oliver, I knew heading into this race Padraic would be the one to chase. He was just slightly faster than me in all disciplines. I may have out T1 him briefly but he passed me on the bike pretty quick. 
Photo Credit: Dynamic Race


v2 September Edition


Same thing except we had to set-up our transitions in the dark. I had to re-jog my memory on where to set up and check in. Coming into this race, I was riding a low from the Worlds in Penticton. The best solution was to bounce back strong with a chill no-pressure race. Also Montreal RnR was the following weekend so I had already been gearing down on tri-season and gearing up for run-season.

Race morning was still dark
A tight section coming off the bike into T2

Mike Fertuck always a force to be wreckin with

Post Race Food
Lol this is almost identical to the June picture,
except I was in aero and more determined!
Photo Credit: Dynamic Race

Overall, similar swim, similar bike, and 2 minutes faster on the run. I had better technique doing higher cadence on the beach portion on the run. I did pass a few runners on the run course in the blistering fast 5km. 

Power Data from June Cultus was slightly higher than September Cultus. Times were similar, perhaps knowing the course made me more efficient with less power?


I sneaked onto the overall podium for the first time in my triathlon career. Chris Young and the winner had daylights on me. Great to see Chris Young back racing after a 2 year break. A bunch of the faster peeps were in the standard and half events.
Photo Credit: Dynamic Race

It was super fun sharing the AG podium with Matthew (left) and Allen (right). The three of us must had exchanged leads throughout this fast short course race.
Allen was thrilled to jump onto the podium as he's the crafty podium master who had built them. 
Photo Credit: Dynamic Race
After the race, we shared our power data stats and I was shocked that both Allen and Matthew had much bigger power than me! I learned big power is not the only variable for the fastest time, especially on a higher VI (variability index) score ride. Had the bike course been flat and straight, I easily could had been the slowest.

Special note, an inspiring local legend Mikey Ross had his 100th triathlon race in the standard for September Culus. It's too bad the sprint was finished before I got the chance to give him his 100th high five. He is one of the many amazing ambassadors for our sport.

Well that's a wrap for my tri-season. It will be a fun to get back into spin classes and nerding it up on Golden Cheetah to analyze the bike data over the summer. After a season of mostly short course racing, there's definitely still a lot to learn for all three disciplines. I'm adopting that Lionel Sanders approach to learning. For the next little bit, I'm going focus on running and enjoy the rebuild/off-season for bike and swim. This was the first year since 2011 I didn't do an Ironman distance and yet I'm having so much fun. You know that there is no such thing as having too much fun. ;)






Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Du before the Solar Eclipse - Penticton ITU Worlds - AG Standard Du RR

Me @ Penticton Finish Area

This year's world championships stage marked the inaugural multi-sport festival in Penticton, combining 6 championships events for the first time ever with various categories including elite, junior and U23, para-athletes and age groupers. I had the opportunity to represent Canada at the standard duathlon distance, which oddly enough happened on the same morning as the solar eclipse.

Taking photos of the photographers before the Parade of Nations
The parade of nations included a team picture, a walk down the scenic beachfront of Okanagan Lake and a pasta dinner. The atmosphere brought back the vibes of the old ironman. We met some cross tri and sprint du athletes in the mix.

Hanging out with fellow Canadian athletes at the Pasta Dinner

  
Athlete's Village and information about the weekly events



Run! Bike! Run!

The race course for the age group athletes was completely different from the elites.  I guess they wanted to challenge the elite athletes with 5 loops of a very technical and hilly bike course (not to mention starting them in the afternoon, when the temperatures were well above 30 degrees!).  Our run route was in the heart of the town with 4 clockwise loops in the first run and 2 clockwise loops for the second run. The bike was a fast and flat out-and-back along the beachfront of Okanagan Lake, which we completed twice.

The race didn't go as well as I had hoped. 

The first run was really crowded as we started half an hour after the first 3 heats. On the bike I had to deal with a couple mishaps including a crash (gentle fall) at the turnaround.  I later realized, after completing one loop of the bike, that my front tire was  completely deflated, likely a result of a slow leak. This race had a rule that you couldn't bring your own bike pumps into transition race morning, and it was my totally my fault for not checking the valve when the volunteers pumped them up. I completed one lap and realized something was wrong as a lot of people were easily biking past me. I think I lost about 5 minutes on the bike, but it felt like this world championships field was gone in that time. 
After these drawbacks, my heart wasn't in it for the second run. I finished 21/26 in my age category. Kept my head high, and knew that I have better races to come.

Jen was also racing the standard du.  I saw her before the race warming up and wished her luck.  She had her boxing gloves (bike gloves) on and looked ready to go.  The ladies got to start their race before the men (27 min before my heat).  It's not very often you get this role reversal.  I got a couple updates from Allen about Jen, and learned that she was doing very well early in run.  However, he failed to comment on my progress :).  Jen had a good race, just missing the podium for her age group by 5s.  This had it's silver lining though, as she ran and biked better than expected.

We got to stay the weekend with Kara, up on a mountain near Penticton.  She was a gracious host and we definitely appreciated it!  A fellow duathlete, Mike Fertuck, was also staying with Kara.  It was fun talking about the race beforehand and discussing a couple strategies with him.  Nerding it up.
Locked on the bull's eye


You get this neat scarf for finishing. I happily traded my Canadian uniform with a athlete from Mexico as they had the best clothing of all the nations! Not long after the solar eclipse came and we saw a little dimming of the sky. Perhaps representative of how my race went, i.e. it wasn't my brightest moment. I'll bounce back in the next one! 

Enjoying the "lazy" river

I had the yummiest ice cream, could you believe this was only the child size?




Monday, August 28, 2017

Watching the Little Ducks and Pros - ITU Edmonton RR


 
 

 


What is a summer without a long road trip?  Not much fun.  So when Jen asked if I wanted to go back to Edmonton to race the ITU triathlon, it seemed like a no brainer.  I had raced the duathlon last year and wanted to try the tri this year.


We decided to do the road trip to give ourselves more flexibility.  Jen and I have friends and family across Alberta, so driving up meant we could catch up with most of them.  In the end, I met up with ten groups of friends.  Not bad for a six day trip.  One notable visit was catching up with our fabulous ex-Running Room manager, Lori, in Banff. I had pre-race beer and Elk burger. Life was good.




 

 
The ITU moved the race from the September long weekend to July after having two very cold years in a row.  But being in the prairies, nothing is a given.  The day before the race was warm and sunny, and the forecast predicted similar conditions for race day.  But we woke up to the sounds of rain drops.  Bummer, this could be another cold one...

Luckily the clouds cleared as we rolled into transition.  Ironically the rain had warmed Hawrelak lake overnight to a balmy 22.2oC.  This meant that we would have a no wetsuit swim.  Of all the scenarios for a 'most potential' swimmer, this was the least ideal.

 
There is:
  • wetsuit in salt water (most favourable)
  • wetsuit in fresh water
  • no wetsuit in salt water
  • no wetsuit in fresh water (least favourable and our situation)
  • There is also a no swim scenario, though that would be a duathlon... :)

Before the race, Jen ran into one of her class mates from undergrad.  He is also an engineer, and recently started triathlons.  We got chit chatting so much, that I completely forgot about the warm up.  Not good.

The swim course was two clockwise loops around the perimeter of the lake and around the little island.  You could tell that they had protected the water as you could smell chlorine.   My swim was at a pedestrian pace and I lost a good chunk of time to the leaders.  Surprisingly, the lake water felt much more comfortable than the air temperature. Since the pros would be racing later that day, they had an exit ramp leading onto the blue carpet which lead to the transition area.  It was a long run, but I enjoyed my TV time.


The bike course was a closed course with four laps around the University including two big hills.  The first was Emily Murphy, a steep punchy hill (this would be the same hill the pros would climb six times this afternoon), and the second was a long twisty climb along Groat road.  This was a really fun bike course.  You really had to engage by using all your gears and tuck in on the hills and tight corners.  They had repaved Groat road this winter, making that section of the course more enjoyable to ride.
From my experience racing here last year, I knew that attacking the climbs with a steady effort and recharging on the downhill would provide huge gains.  This strategy worked well for me as I was catching several men ahead of me and felt strong the entire way.  There were a few men surging past me on the flatter sections, but then I would easily drop them like a bag of bricks on the climbs.  I surged ahead of Jen at the top of Emily Murphy hill on my fourth lap and yelled out a couple words of encouragement.  But she was too busy admiring her bike in her own little bubble space.
Coming into the final corner of the loop
Hopping into T2
The run course changed from last year.  Instead of the 'super fast' three out-and-back loops of last year, we had two out-and-back loops counter-clockwise around Hawrelak park and along a gravel footpath to and across the truss pedestrian/cycling bridge where the turnaround was.  For those of you who looked at the results from last year, you may have noticed that Jen ran a 29min 10K split.  That would put in the same league as the Brownlees, Mario Mola and Javier Gomez!  Could she do it again?  (She was just shy.  But, the course was only 7.8 Km last year.  FYI, the ITU allows a 20% margin or error in the race distance, but that was too much).

This year, I decided to run based on my heart rate instead of pace.  I caught up to one guy in my age group comfortable twice, but unfortunately and annoyingly he surged at the last two turnarounds after realizing I was right with him.  I simply ran out of distance by the end, finishing 15s behind him.  Even though I felt great, I didn't have a faster gear to catch him a third time.  More impressively, I had run a huge negative split (4:12 pace first loop and 4:07 pace second loop)!  This has never happened to me in either a road or multi-sport races.  This new discovery taught me a valuable lesson about running on effort, rather than by pace output.  This is also something that Jen has been telling me for years, but I did not understand what languages she was speaking until now.
I finished 4th in my age group and qualified for Worlds next year in Gold Coast.  Jen and I both talked about going, though we need to think about the food choices and make a business case for it.
After our race, we stuck around to watch the pros race a sprint.  The women's field included Flora Duffy, Paula Findlay, Joanna Brown and Katie Zaferes.  At the start of the race, a couple ducks decided to swim in the lake in front of the pack.  It was really funny to watch them wag their tails to try and get out of the way.  After three failed attempts, they eventually flew away.  Flora Duffy and an American girl (Taylor Knibb) swam well and broke away from the pack on the first climb up Emily Murphy.  The group tried to catch up, but lost more time after every lap.  Duffy would win this race easily by almost a full minute.  It was interesting to see how hard the girls were pushing on the run.  Clearly every second counted for them.
Top 4!


The men's race had more depth, with Jonny Brownlee, Mario Mola and Javier Gomez all on the start line.  The men's race was much closer on the bike.  The ITU had set up a TV screen at the transitions so that we could watch the race.  At one point, you could see the men casual conversations coming down Emily Murphy hill.  The announcer predicted that they were going ~80 Km/hour down the hill.  In response, he said in admiration, "That's confidence on the bike, folks" ;).  The men were hammering the run.  It was mind blowing how fast they were going (about 3:00/Km) and making it look so easy.  One thing I noticed was that they all had their arms high and were pumping them hard.  One Australian guy forgot that the run was three loops and hammered past Mola.  It was only when the crowd yelled at him to keep going that he realized his mistake  Bad oops.  This was an exciting race to watch in person!  I would say that my race entry fee was amazing value.

 
Rainbow heart rate zones!

 

 
Finish!


 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Multi-Day Multi-Sport - Oliver WCOC & Half RRs

A weekend of triathlon in Oliver 

The next event in the Dynamic Series was the Oliver triathlon.  It was the same weekend as the Victoria triathlon, so the race was a lot smaller than in previous years.  Despite this, Oliver was still the BC Championships for long course triathlon and attracted a range of many local veteran and beginner athletes. Again, there were many familiar friendly faces from the Abbotsford tri club, which was nice.


Athletes had the option to race the sprint or standard triathlon on the Saturday, and the half Ironman on Sunday.  Generally, athletes are not allowed to race two multi-sport events within 36 hours (after the ITU introduced a new rule back in 2015... which I learned the hard way :( ).  But, Tri-BC made an exception for athletes provided they got medical permission.  Having dangled the carrot of two races, I took the bait!  After all, I had already paid for the season pass, so might as well get my moneys worth :D.






Saturday was a fast day.  The swim was a long straight out and back course in scenic Tuc-el-Nuit lake.  Sighting was difficult as the sun was in my eyes on the way.  Luckily I was able to swim straight and found the buoy in good time.    The bike course was fast and flat.  Mikey Ross was right in front of me on the bike (having not worn a wet suit).  It was fun trying to catch him, but he was just too quick.  The run was all along the road.  It follows the same portion as the half; all flat meaning that I could make up ground on my competition.  I was averaging 4:04/Km.  I finished 8th overall and 3rd in my age group!  The nice thing about racing the sprint was that I was finishing just before the temperature heated up.  This was perfect for helping me recovery and prepare for the half Ironman the next day.


This was my first multi-day, multi-sport.  My road trip partner, Andrew, has previous experiences with this from racing the Ultra-man in Penticton and Florida. Also Stu had some expertise as well as he also supported Andrew in his Ultras.  I tried to tap into their knowledge.  So when I checked in my bike after finishing a race, it felt really funny.  But there were several athletes doing the double, so I wasn't in lone company.




I woke up early Sunday morning feeling ready race.  The sprint from the day before was long gone.  My legs felt fresh and my energy was on point.  As we were gathering at the swim start, I noticed that Mikey Ross was wearing his wet-suit today.  That means that he was here for  serious business.  No more monkey business.  The swim was a double loop triangle course in a clockwise direction.  The final segment from the swim was the same as the sprint.  Having experience from the previous day, I knew that you could swerve along the lake front to cut some distance.  The water was super calm race morning.  Not a ripple to slow you down!  My swim was as expected.  I haven't been swimming as much as I would have liked leading into this race, so my time was a bit slower than usual.  Oh well, at least I'm still good at transitions. The transition from swim to bike was a long one to get to the elementary school where the bikes were located. 




The bike course was two and a half loops passing through the Golden Mile.  It was a scenic and enjoyable ride.  The first half loop along Black Sage Road was really fast, and I was averaging 45 Km/h.  But coming back along Highway 97 was where the men were separated from the boys.  The conditions were very windy and this slowed us down a great deal.  For reference, I was probably averaging not much more than 20 Km/h.  Whomp, whomp.  A couple friends advised me to get a power meter to help my cycling this year.  It is beneficial to judge your bike efforts based on power output - especially on hilly or windy courses.  I did my best to hold just under 200 Watts, but the wind wore me down on the second loop.  Seeing the drop in power, I guess I should have been more conservative on the first loop as my bike training was more geared towards shorter distance this year.


Heading into T2, I couldn't have been happier to see my running shoes.  Last year, I got a FR 735XT Garmin, which provides heart-rate data.  This was the first race where I judge my pace efforts based off of my heart rate.  Where I noticed the greatest impact was in the final 5Km of the run.  Normally, I would be fading very quickly here.  But I was able to still hold a consistent effort and finish strong.  Time-wise it wasn't a huge difference, but the execution was much better.  I just missed the podium for the BC champs, finishing 21st overall and 4th in my age group.


The post race food at both Sprint and Half were incredibly delicious. We had pancakes and sausages after the Sprint, and a choice between chicken or beef burgers after the Half with beer! I picked the Chicken burger and I still remember the juicy goodness. One of the best post race meals I have had in recent memory.