Saturday, December 7, 2013

Year-end Highlights and Arizona IM RR

It's been a long season to say the least. I figured since I'm so late for this race report from Arizona, I might as well throw in all the number crunched data from the year.

A summary of the races I have completed this year.

Note: *but not sure if this fast and flat course counts :)

Now I know it's a big crime to compare times from one race to another and even from a race to itself to other years especially because of many varying factors but I don't care..(kidding). For getting a baseline on fitness, I have always based my training upon time-based goals and we can always add-in the weak excuses unique caveats for each race if so desired. :)

Some main highlights:
1. Shawnigan Half was the first race since I started implementing the speedy ENVE 6.7 wheels.
2. I managed to attain some PBs late in the season. Victoria Half was a tipping point, which was a first PB in two years at the time! The wheels was starting to cash in chunks of minutes. An old working man like me in the office needs all the speed I can get (to match the speeds as I was when I was still in school)! ;)
3. Vancouver Half provided a huge lesson for me this year. I thought I could hammer hard on the bike with the new wheels and be invincible but I realized my output was not steady. Lap 4 was a disaster as many many people passed me.
4. BMO marathon and the Subaru half series really whipped me into shape for Whistler IM. Hilly course on bike and run, but still managed to pull off a huge 23minute PB from last year's Penticton course. At least 10 minutes definitely came from the wheels and calm windy conditions but I was also noticing my hidden weaknesses. During the pancake-flat Pemberton Meadows stretch, I noticed the same lap 4 in Vancouver situation. Everyone was killing me on the flats! Despite going quicker in all disciplines, I knew I had to shape up for Arizona!
5. Chicago Marathon was really good preparation for Arizona because both were so flat! I did some training runs with amazing trainer partner Lise and really channeled those 3h20m run in pouring rain that we did. Despite being sick, I remembered it was only 3hr of suffering, I've already done 3h20m in training so it couldn't be that bad right?

And finally this brings me to Arizona!

2012 was the heartbreak hills in Boston and Switzerland. 2013 was the Canyons from La Salle Street in Chicago to Arizona's none other than the Grand grandaddy Canyon itself. A terrible capture of my go-pro of superstar triathlete Brendan Naef and the up to 3300 million years old rocks carved out by the Colorado River.

I'll keep the race short. The swim was a bit rough for me, I had to sight quite a bit and got kicked in the face a few times because of the high turbidity of the water, which I couldn't even see my own hands. Geometry was also unusual since it follows the curve of the river. I tried swimming straight to cut the apex of turn as short as possible but others wanted to swim towards the buoys. The latter half on the way back allowed me to draft of a guy with a bit of red on the wetsuit and managed to salvage a similar time split for the swim as Whistler. 1h15m. I have lots of room for improvement here.

Coming out and into T1 in about 800-900 place, I was impressed with the volunteer support! They were helpful, patient and friendly. I remember trying to put on my cycling shoe in the change tents, but lost my balance a few times and the volunteer was able to guide me through and collect my items and helped put on my watch. Amazing!

The bike was basically a space mission for me. Bad analogy I know! I had no idea how fast I could go, but didn't want to overcook the legs for the marathon. The first half of the first lap of a three loop course, I was pedaling gingerly at 31-32 km/hr. I didn't want to repeat the same mistake of Vancouver Half. Slowly I picked up to 34-35 km/hr average per lap and felt really strong after lap 2. I knew lap three was in the bag if I kept this up, the advantage of a looped bike course. Sometimes knowing, is the biggest difference. I'm not sure how much credit this really represent but my bike split was 5h15m on a flat and draft friendly course. I felt like I was holding back and could have gone at least 5 minutes quicker. I was happy with my nutrition but there were some bad hand-off for the gels so I had to really slow the pace to grab them. Drafting was a bit of a issue naturally with such a congested course, but I was able to pedal my way out of trouble when the groups did get larger for the most part. Don't mean to throw anyone under the bus, but most of the groups had weaker cyclists in them who weren't even pedaling! Despite all this, I was quite please with my result at this point, leaving my final energy for the run.

I decided to not risk wasting time at T2 and use the washroom at one of the first aid stations on the run. This probably took 20 seconds, but a much needed break. This was where the race really got serious. A close training friend Victoria Gilbert have been putting a fantastic race in her first Ironman race and I learned that she was only a couple minutes back of me on Mile 2 of the run. I was prepared for her to catch me, but I said to myself in a little voice inside my head that I wanted her to pass me knowing that I had ran my best. I couldn't dare look back at many points of the race feeling like a gun was held to my head. It was a lot of fun knowing both of us was on pace for a fantastic PB. Music was not my motivation, I had to channel a few friends from home to get me through the run. Their energy definitely helped.

One person I should mention is Brendan Naef. This was my 5th ironman and all of them has been done with him. He is an amazing mentor and I try to absorb his amazing can-do attitude. He definitely said some words to me prior to the race that helped me gain some confidence.

I finished in a time of 10h6m57s. Totally satisfied with the result, but I feel like I can go quicker. My hunger has deepened. Bring on 2014 (baby)!

Thanks for reading.

Other cool links.
IMAZ Video

Also checkout a couple inspiring friend's reports:
 Brendan Naef's RR
 Kory Seder's RR

Bonus, I thought it would be neat to compare my open marathon and IM run splits since both are on such flat and fast courses.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Storming the Windy City - Chicago Marathon RR

I decided to do Chicago Marathon as my next big Major Marathon race-cation. This might be a huge understatement, but after completing this race I can see why this was such a popular race! The race was huge (45K participants) and the race logistics was very organized. Over 2 million came to cheer from all over the course. A true rockstar experience.

The race started early at 7:30am, and we could see the pink skies and sun rising from the lake. Considering this is the first major marathon in the US since Boston 2013, luckily security was hidden and I didn't really notice much different other than checking in clear bags and requiring a soft manual hand search of personal items before walking into the park which was fenced off with many entry gates.

The race had 3 pacers for every 5 minutes intervals starting from 3 hours and then onwards. They had a stick with a sign that read the times. What was super neat was that these official pacers provided commentary throughout the race to keep you in best shape to achieve your best result!

It didn't take long to get into Grant Park, but there were insanely a lot of runners. Bryan and I dropped off the bags and then slowly navigated through a maze of people to eventually reach corral A. I decided to start with the 3:05 group considering my pb at the time was 3:07ish achieved a few years ago before I started working, but my recent times has been dipping into the 3:15ish.

I remember one of the 3:05 pacers said in a loud broad voice,

"Okay so here's the plan. It gets pretty chaotic for the first little bit. The plan is to re-group at mile 4 and then run steady. Normally out of the three paces for 3:05 group, one will run high 3:05, another low 3:05 and the third pacer would be somewhere in the middle."

I thought to myself, awesome.

The race started. Oh my goodness I had to contain my giddy emotions because it was too early and easy to overcook it. I had a sore throat throughout the week and it was about 85% healed, which was a blessing in disguised. My mantra that I kept telling myself was..."okay just 3 hours of suffering, just 3 hours and I'll be done. The hard part of registering for the event was already completed" The recovering sore throat helped kept me going steady and conservative.

I started going a bit faster than the 3:05 with the full intention of the group would reel in a some point after 4 miles and we would run steady for an amazing PB. It was hard to gauge the initial few miles because we ran underneath some large overpass and I didn't trust Garmin. Eventually I noticed the distance were matching up for the most part and there were pace clocks at each mile marker. Also being a metric SI kind of person, I had to become familiar with my imperial pace times. My pace was easy to calculate because I needed to go just over 7 minute miles and each marker was a multiple of 7. I was holding strong at 6:40ish miles for the first 5-10km when I caught the 3:00 pace group. I was nervous being around this group because I had in my mind that 3:05 was my group.

I decided to stay with the 3:00 group as long as possible. It was amazing running with few hundred people next to you for a good chunk of the race. The pacers basically neutralized the pace like how they do it bike racing.

Turning along the course was highly technical. The race started with 6 lanes in the downtown core and because the 42.2km is measured from the tightest radius along the course, I had to run a bit extra one way or another. Taking the tightest turn was not ideal because you would actually get elbowed like in open water swimming. I took the midland area just so that I didn't have to run on the slanting part of the roads on the side and it was the quickest way to turn in both directions. Running wide on a turn in a 6 lane intersection would had meant I needed to run at least an extra 10 metres!

There were 6 draw bridges to run across in total and 5 of them were in the first half. As I approached the half way marker with the 3:00 group, I was thinking okay less than 2 hours of suffering! And I was thinking how long can I stay with this group?

One of the draw bridges near the half way point had the slightest downhill with a dangerous "Cheer Zone". It was only natural that the pace went up during this km split. Holy smokes 3:40 minutes/km.

At mile 17, one of the 3:00 group pacers said "There is a gel station in 2.7 miles ahead. Don't worry they will have all the flavours spread out so you would have plenty of room." Sure enough, the commentary was amazing and the gel station operation was flawless.

General aid stations were spaced along the course every 2 miles approximately. About 50 metres on both sides of the road for sports drink and then a short gap with another 50 metres of water. If I was running on the side of the road, I probably could had grab like 10 cups. But also with the large crowds if I was in the centreline of the road, it takes about 50 metres to slowly merge to the side to pickup the drink without letting down on my pace.

As I reached 2 hours of running, I was thinking man this final hour of running was going to be brutal! I just wanted to crawl into bed in the cradle position and rest my recovering sore throat. Then with appropriate timing, one of the pacers said, "Remember to stand up tall to keep good form". I was very grateful for the tip and took the advice.

At around 36k, I was starting to slip slowly. My calfs were twitching and the 3:00 pace bus started to drop me. I was hoping to make it to the 42.2 bus stop, but ended up running slightly over 3 hours.

Official time 3h1m54s (and squeaked into the top 1000).

Not bad at all, with this time now I can say all my shorter distances can go (or suppose to be) faster according to the MacMillian Calculator!

As I ran near the finish line, I was filled with emotions and double fist pumped. Shattered my recent marathon times by nearly 15 minutes!

The finish greeted us with one cup of official beer, and then we had a ticket to claim another one inside! Amazing.

We enjoyed other great delights throughout the trip as well.

A flight of beers later that day too.

 A Canadian Thanksgiving dinner

Chicago-Style Hot Dog

And of course Chicago's famous deep-dish pizza


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Winstorm arrives in Chi City!!

Chi City, the cool way of saying Chicago! So runners took over the big canyon on LaSalle Street last weekend for the big marathon, and I guess you are correct to assume I was part of the marathon madness! Okay "big" is a bit of an understatement considering the race took most of 6 lanes of roadway, but anyways.... ;)

Willis got no punch on Winstorm!

So we got the Go Chicago Card, which basically had given us VIP entry to all of the big attractions. Despite feeling somewhat guilty, with the pass we also at times got to skip the long lines to get in as well!! What a steal of a deal! The only catch was that we could only go on one cruise ride a day (I know ONLY!!), and the pass expires after 5:30pm (but once inside, we could stay as long as we want until the late closure - insert evil laff).

Part 1: Revelling in the Architecture, Structures, and other Attractions

1.  John Hancock Tower

Both Bryan and I couldn't sneak in the ladies washroom near the observer deck because apparently the rumour in town is that the best view can be viewed there.

Zee View up on Top
Zee View from Bottom
Zee elevetor inside
2. Willis Sears Tower (but the locals prefer Sears).
It wasn't as quick to get up the Willis as the weekend creep in and the lines were long. Still we can say been there, done that. Ear popping experience. Check.
Zee View from Willis
Pretty badass 9-square grid pattern
Zee elevator
Awesome view inside Elevator too.
3. Shedd Aquarium
Shedd Aquarium is apparently one of the biggest indoor aquariums for some time. According to one of the architecture tours word of month, apparently so big, they had to use custom designs to use rail cars to ship in sea water. Also apparently this had cost so much that the initial opening years had no fishes in the tanks of seawater. Tourists back then got to see big tanks of sea water, with no living! It wasn't long until revenue collected could be use to fill some living creatures like these ones below thankfully.
and Penguins!
4. Alder Planetarium
A smarty pants astronomer was there to answer our questions. Luckily Bryan and his engineering physics background was able to do most of the asking, and I keep my ill-informed dumb questions to a minimum.
Me next to land rover (psst not the car version).

Me in infra-red light!
5. Garmin Store
Okay the reviews online were correct. Sales staff had unnecessarily strong sales pitch and I was a bit disappointed by the experience. We met up with Bryan's friend Nick here and left before they served cake for one of their Garmin riders doing some talk. Christian Vande Velde. Ah too bad.
6. Cloud Gate "The Bean" and Crown Fountain
Gotta admit the famous giant bean is pretty neat!
 Cloud Gate
Side Shot
And just nearby the Crown fountain would light up with an interactive face and eventually start shooting water out of its mouth.
Crown Fountain

Johnson and I taking in the art 
7. Cruises & Wheels 
Day 1 we went on the river cruise which took us straight under the drawbridges along the Chicago River.
Cutting it a little close for comfort. Very little headroom.
Day 2 we got on the Tall Ship "Windy" vessel! Arrr mighty!

They knew the marathon was here so they even fired some "Kenyans" for show! ;)
How badaasss are these wheeeelz?
8. Navy Pier
 Having some fun at the park.
Bryan hangin' on during the big Winstorm
9. 7am Sun Rise
Got to see the sun rising from the lake. Just a gorgeous pink glow lighting the city up.
10. Cray Cray Architecture everywhere. OtotheMtotheGoodness too much structural eye-candy. Shanghai big if not bigger! Everything is as big as you imagined America but probably even bigger.
"Great" Lawn
Trump Tower - It's kind of cool that each step represents the same height as another famous Chicago Landmark.
Boeing Tower - the design faced some challenges as it is built actually on a sub station and the loads on the smaller building is taken by cantilevered from the tower. However "fake" columns were still placed for the smaller building above the sub-station to appease the public that the building still looks like a normal building and safe to walk around.

House of Blues - corny and flowery design with cars parked with rear facing outside of building to prevent exhaust being transmitted inside.

Soo, it was 5 short days of shear fun and Bryan and I luckily managed to enjoy more than what we bargained for. And we were able to tack on a marathon too! More to come. :)


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Whistling along - Ironman Canada RR

Y’all two weeks ago, I completed my first ironman of the season in PB fashion. My goal time was sub 11h10m (which was 5 minutes quicker than my previous PB last year) thinking that improving another 5 minutes more on the much publicized “hilly” courses on both bike and run would be on the optimistic side.

Beyond my wildest predictions (and with the help of my blazing fast wheels and calm winds and cool temperatures), I totally shattered my goal time in an official finisher time of 10h53m09s (21minutes quicker overall)!!

I felt like a rockstar. Friends and Family were my amazing cheer leaders and my success wouldn’t have been accomplished without their continued support as always. Thanks to Chris Hart for his amazing hospitality and accommodation. 

This race was scenic and challenging but also very rewarding with patience. What was the key difference in this race was the connection I had with the people on the run course. I really enjoyed it.  I know it’s hard to describe, but I truly felt it! It’s a weird combination of emotional, mental and physical sensations. I was just riding the high on the run. Proof below:

·         My friend Kyuwon from Toronto pointed out her friend’s blog had a picture of me. Totally random, but check it out! I’m in the third picture down!!

·         The VOWSA swims at Kits Beach that I had regularly attended had some swimmers recognizing me at the race. Two enthusiastic swimmers even independently said to me that I had inspired them to sign up for this race next year. Awesome to hear!

·         There was definitely a lot of “UBC” pride on course, perhaps as indicated on my tri suit. I was surprised there were so many random people that cheered me on!
Photo credit to a spectator Alexis Thind from Whistler! Many thanks!
·         The inspiration I got from my friend and pro racer Brendan Naef has been huge. Brendan high fived me on the run course and give me a huge boost. Considering he did M-dot Mont-Tremblant the weekend before meant that the pain I was feeling couldn't have been as bad.

All this stardom was too much for me to absorb. I just knew what I had to do and went for it. Beast it. I knew many of my co-workers and friends from abroad and back home would be judging relentlessly at my splits online.

·         The first split was 5 minutes quicker for the swim. This was a set-up for a great day. I never looked back.

·         I’m not sure if my watch was off by a km or so, but I wanted to break 6hours so bad that I just kept pushing. Each time I passed a timing checkpoint, I rode faster to not disappoint. I got 9 minutes quicker on the bike and with a bike split of 5h53m.

·         Once I got to the run, I just rode the emotions and ran with a huge smile. I knew I was getting a huge PB. That kept me entertained every time I glanced at Garmin. I was 8 minutes quicker on the run thanks to the favourable cool temperatures.

Naiely was too slow pulling out the camera!

I’d almost forgotten what a crappy swimmer I used to be (and still am but less so). Two years ago, I was swimming 1h30m for the 3.8km swim and I never would have dreamed swimming 1h15m was even possible. This Whistler swim course being so technical with 7 turns had lots of body punching contact. I swam 1h15m15s, but I know I still have lots of room for improvement.

T1 was eventful. I ran into Tiffany and then Lise saw me too and they both helped me with my wetsuit peeling. I was a bit dizzy and couldn’t find the swim-bike bag initially until running back and forth to check my number.

I guess sometimes you have to be good to be lucky and luck has a funny way of rewarding you. Winds were definitely a lot calmer than I experienced during my training rides. I flew up Callaghan Valley passing so many riders. On the decent, I was okay with a few P5 cevelos zooming by me. Once I got past Pemberton and into Pemberton Meadows that’s when I realized trouble. Everyone was passing me on the flats, I was averaging about 32.8km/hr. I guess my climbs this year has been such a focus that I failed to train for the flats. PS – the draft packs definitely didn’t help me either as everyone passed me in huge groups. It was a bit demoralizing, but I knew I had to save my energy for the run.

Nutrition wise, I was happy eating just jels all day. I had about 12 jels on the bike course (lol after I counted them all from my bento box). It’s a smart thing I did bring half a dozen jels just because grabbing that many jels would be a bit more challenging.

I’ve been running a lot this year and had a little curiosity how well I would do. I really wanted it, my cardio was actually limiting me to go quicker but I ran pretty steady throughout the marathon. My open marathon time was 3h17m this year but my marathon split at this race was 3h38m!! I was stunned. It just goes to show Ironman is approx. 90% mental.

 How badly do you want it?

PS - The remainder 10% might be just genuine fear. A bear came to check out the run as well. Good thing the bear on course chose to spare me this time. 

  Thanks for the support! Thanks for reading! Keep on truckin'! :)