Six weeks ago, my 2011 track season finished on a bit of, shall we say, low note. I don’t need to re-hash it (last blog should suffice!) but I was basically frustrated, tired and ready to throw in the towel completely. I came home from Europe and decided to turn my energy to triathlon training for at least the fall and decided to take the pressure off myself in the running department and just relax and have fun – which for me meant putting myself through another kind of hurt: Olympic distance triathlon on three weeks of preparation for my hometown’s Kelowna Apple Triathlon / Age Group Nationals.
As a runner with no swimming background, I did the best I could to prepare for terrifying first leg of a triathlon. I attacked my swimming preparation with 3-4 sessions a week of 30 minutes of lake swimming. At least I knew I could complete a 1500m swim, even if it were not fast! I also jumped on my road bike and biked a few days a week on the unavoidable hills of Kelowna. Realizing that there is only so much one can do to prepare for a race with three weeks notice – and that more harm can be done than gained through over training – I prepared myself the best I could with my two week build and one week taper approach.
It was awesome to be home for the Apple Triathlon as it is such a big and exciting event in Kelowna and so many of my friends were also competing. The energy of the City was addicting and we were so lucky to have the added bonus of the “Pro Race” that featured Simon Whitfield, Paula Findlay, Kyle Jones and many other elite athletes from around the world. I loved speaking with all the visitors in town for the event who raved about the event and the Okanagan. It was also really fun to host an elite home stay athlete, Brian, from California and have our “own” pro to cheer for during the event.
As expected, the swim was tough. I actually got off to a good start and start to get really excited 100m in thinking “wow, I can still see the leaders”. Then I got an enormous surge of either adrenaline or lactic (not sure which) and had to do a lot of positive self-talk to keep myself going. It can be an alarming feeling to be hyper-ventilation in deep water but to still have all the competitive thoughts going through the mind; as I flipped onto my back a few times to catch my breath and nerves I couldn’t help but think “oh they are getting away and I am going to have to run so fast to catch them!”. Needless to say, finishing the swim was the first highlight of my day. My second triathlon ever (first in 2009) on the same course and I was about 20 seconds faster (25:57)! Who-hoo.
After a pathetic transition (how do you get a wetsuit off when you are still trembling from the water panic attacks??) I was jumping on my bike. A runner on a bike is a big improvement to a runner in the water. I tore off on the bike course, which about 3 minutes in includes a steep climb of about 800m. Since the Apple Triathlon is so big they start the age groups in wave starts over a two hour period, which combined with a three loop bike course, means lots of people to “reel” in (ha ha – get it?). I cranked up the hill feeling pretty good about all the people I was passing – even if they were in the 50 + age group – and settled into a pace I thought I could reasonably sustain for the next 35 km. That is, until someone passed me. And it was a SHE! I was actually pretty lucky because there was a strong biker who was a similarly paced (slow) swimmer to me so I was able to gauge my effort off her. I was careful not to draft, and found that every time I relaxed for a nano-second on the bike she would be 100m up the road from me, meaning I had to work extra hard to get back in her range again. She managed to put some space on me on the third loop and despite my inner chants of “Go legs, go! Push, pull, push, pull”, my legs screamed quite the opposite. I don’t think that two weeks of cycling in a year and one week of taper had me quite prepared to bike as hard as I did, but I ended up being 40 seconds faster than my first/last triathlon and the 6th fastest women’s bike split which leaves me optimistic that biking is something I can also improve upon with training.
Despite riding as hard as I could, I knew I could not relax yet. I had to make up for my lost swim / backstroke time and took off out of the transition onto the run as fast as my little legs could carry me. I pretty much spent the whole 10 km cursing my tired legs which were not prepared to run that fast after biking 1:06 minutes at my maximum power. However, I knew everyone else was also hurting and at least the run is my strength. My husband was on the course giving me the split difference between the top woman and me so I knew I had to run hard. I think I needed to make up 2:30 minutes which I figured was do-able. It was, and I ran a 35:08 10 km split, which was hard, hard, hard – and enroute gained even more respect for triathletes who run so fast on “used” legs.
I ended up winning age group Nationals which I thought was pretty cool, especially considering the amount of specific training I did for it. I faintly remember thoughts midway through my run which went something along the line of “I am never doing this again, running is so much easier!” but after the post-race dizzy spell was over, I started thinking of my next triathlon races and how I could improve with bike and swim training. And how I had fun!
Although there are tons of races I could jump into this fall, I came to two conclusions: I need to be a better swimmer before I pursue more triathlon races. I need to be a SERIOUSLY better swimmer. And that is going to take some major sacrifice and hard work. I have been doing a bit of reading on runners turned triathletes and I know it will not be without some major commitments to the pool. I am particularly motivated by two individuals who have made the transition from being top level runners to elite level triathletes: including Jesse Thomas and Melissa Rollinson. Jesse’s coach, Matt Dixon includes a short analysis of Jesse’s swim progression on his website. When I looked at the work involved for Jesse to become as good a swimmer as he is now, I find the task a bit daunting. I also have known Jesse for 13 years and know that once he puts his mind to something, he is unstoppable. You can’t become a better swimmer without doing the work, much as I would love to do it via YouTube osmosis, so I am now in the mental preparation mode for what it to eventually be my reality.
While doing all my thinking of triathlon, I also came to a second conclusion: I can become a better swimmer and I will one day make that commitment. But not this year. This year, I am going to become a SERIOUSLY better runner. And so after my flirt with triathlon, I am back to serious run training as I prepare for the Pan American Games, in Guadalajara Mexico at the end of October and launch into Olympic year preparation. London, 2012, you want me. I am just glad I had the opportunity to built up a nice base in August through my cross training, oh, I mean triathlon training.