Well, it’s Monday morning and I’m alive to write and publish this, which means I survived my first olympic distance triathlon! I’m also super pumped to tell you about it because it was SO much fun. This 5th instalment of my half Ironman 70.3 training will cover yesterday’s race experience, my day-before-the-race prep, and a few other training notes related to nutrition and motivation over the past couple of months. In case you missed the previous check-ins, you’ll find them below:
You might want to grab yourself a delicious beverage because this one’s a whopper (but a juicy one, and I’m not talking about the burger.) Let’s get into it!
The Subaru Vancouver Triathlon
There are currently only 8 weeks until Challenge Penticton on August 30th and I can’t believe how fast time is flying. The main purpose behind racing the Subaru Vancouver Triathlon was to get a feel for racing and expose myself to the race atmosphere (since my experience is limited to last year’s Guelph Subaru duathlon). The goal was not to go all-out, balls-to-the-wall in effort to pull off a crazy fast time, and to be honest, I really just wanted to finish.
Starting with the race distance, this was what was ahead of me:
- 1500m ocean swim (2 course loops)
- 40km/24.8mi bike (2 course loops)
- 10k/6.21mi run (2 course loops)
On Saturday afternoon I went to the race location for packet pick-up, to check my bike into the transition area, and to attend the mandatory athlete briefing on the beach. After that, it was home to start packing #ALLthethings. I mentally went through every part of the race in my head and made a list on paper of every item first, then packed it all up. Guys, there is SO much more to think about for a tri than there is for a run-only race!
I set out everything I’d need in the morning on my bedroom floor, then had a very carby dinner. Before bed, I did a few other things that I’ve never really worried about before running races like:
- Cutting my nails, so they wouldn’t damage the neoprene on my wetsuit
- Shaving my legs, because I didn’t want extra friction making it any more difficult to sausage myself into said wetsuit – this had absolutely nothing to do with anticipated aerodynamic advantage
- Reading the athlete race guide another 365462 times.
Around 8pm, I found myself cleaning my condo like a crazy woman (maybe it helps to calm nerves?) and that’s when I knew it was time for bed.
I was up at 4:30am on Sunday morning with the goal of getting to the race at 6:15. For breakfast I had a banana and a bowl of Love Grown Foods Mighty Flakes – a blend of the Original and Strawberry flavours because I’m a mixed cereal kind of girl – and made sure I got all of that down by 5am, giving myself 2.5 hours to digest it before my wave went off at 7:39. Mighty Flakes have become a pre-race and pre-training favourite because they’re a gluten-free source of carbs that I can easily eat at home or if I’m traveling to a race further away.
Body marking started at 6:30 and I used the time between then and 7:30 to get my gear set up in the transition area, pee, walk around, pee, get my wetsuit on, put on my cap and goggles, pee…. you get the idea. Around 7:15, I took a double dose of my pre-race staple, Vega Pre-Workout Energizer, and made my way down to the beach. Yesterday’s high was 30 degrees C (86F) but it ended up being SUPER overcast and hazy – not ideal for sun tanning but perfect for racing.
I lined up with the other women in my wave and watched the groups ahead take off in the water. The swim was a 2-loop course and as I stood there looking at the buoys marking it, I had a very brief “why on earth did I sign up for this” moment. There was only a minute or two to have that thought though, because before I knew it I was running into the water with all the other purple swim caps, paddling and kicking my way out into the sea.
For the first couple of minutes, I physically couldn’t breathe when my face was in the water. I think it was just the shock of the cold, but once the pack dispersed a bit I was fine doing my usual bi-lateral breathing every 3 strokes. Sighting wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it might be with so many people around, although I did get a few big gulps of VERY salty water which was gross. There were plenty of support boats, buoys and paddle boards out on the course which I never needed, but it was comforting knowing they were there just in case.
Gear-wise, I originally planned to wear 2 swim caps (my own silicone one first, then my goggles, then the purple latex race one on top) so that my goggles wouldn’t fall off, but I ended up just wearing the purple one and was totally fine. (Had it been really cold I would have gone for 2). I worried a bit that my goggles would fog up quickly, so I rubbed some spit around in them (triathlon is a tremendously glamorous sport) and hoped for the best. Result? ZERO fog. Magic.
Before I knew it, we were running out of the water into the transition area. If there was one part of the entire race that I wish I could redo, it was T1. My transition time was 5:39 which was way longer than I wanted to spend there, but the struggle was trying to peel my wetsuit off of my left arm – the same one I wear my Polar V800 on. In the future, I think I’ll opt to not even bother with my watch on the swim and instead, just put it on after my wetsuit comes off.
Aside from the wetsuit issue, everything else here went quite smoothly. My order of putting on/taking off things was wetsuit off (eventually), race belt and number on, socks, cycling shoes, helmet, 2 Vega gels into my trisuit pocket, bike off the rack, and go.
The bike has definitely been the part that has scared me most since training started back in December. Funnily enough, getting on after the mount line, clipping in, and heading out on the course went so smoothly I barely remember it. My confidence has come a LONG way since I did my first duathlon last year, and I felt great at this point in the race.
I knew the main thing I’d need to nail on the bike (aside from riding in the forward direction obviously) was nutrition. Based on what I’ve learned about triathlon so far, it’s all about being smart and getting calories in when the gut is under less stress so that by the time you reach the run, you’re not depleted and running on empty. The bike course was 2 loops, so I drank 1 bottle of sports drink and ate a Vega Endurance Gel on each loop. Rather than taking in the gel packets in one go, I spaced them out a little on each of the loops for a more gradual boost.
Another thing my coach and I talked about before was not trying to kill it on the bike because that (like lack of fueling) would lead to a painful, poor-quality run. So I used my gears a lot, rode conservatively (but still put in a good effort) and kept my breathing under control. During the second loop of the course, I started to hear a bit of squeaking coming from the back of my bike and got worried that it might be a flat tire. It went away for a bit and came back, so at around 30 out of 40K I stopped really briefly to take a look. With no signs of a flat, I carried on (and when I got home, figured it was just my chain that needed a bit of lube – works like a charm now!)
By this time I really had to pee and figured there was no sense in trying to hold it for the run. In 3 minutes and 59 seconds, I racked my bike, took off my cycling shoes and helmet, put on my running shoes, flipped my race bib to the front, stuffed another gel into my trisuit pocket, ran to the porta potty, then out of T2 and onto the trail.
The run course was on a mostly gravel and dirt path along the beach, and just like the swim and bike, it was a 2-loop course. There were aid stations every 2km and I decided to slow down at every other station for water. Just as I did on the bike, I took my 3rd gel gradually, squishing a bit into my mouth just as I ran up on every other aid station to grab water to wash it down. This strategy worked amazingly well.
Looking at my watch, my first mile split (yes, my watch is in miles) was 7:26. Knowing my coach wanted me to get faster with every mile, I aimed to go just a bit harder on each. One of the beautiful things I’ve learned with training by heart rate in the way that my coach has taught me, is patience. There were people passing me on the bike, but it was so satisfying to get onto the run and pass many of them at what felt like a comfortable pace, while it was clear they were working a lot harder by that point.
The waiting totally paid off in my final kilometer, where I made a steady break for the finish. My 10K run time ended up being 41:53 (21:11 on the first half, 20:42 on the second), and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized my PR from last year’s Yonge St 10K was 40:46. Not too shabby!
This was exactly the type of experience I wanted to get me feeling really good about Challenge Penticton Half in August. With the exception of the watch-under-the-wetsuit struggle, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change a thing and loved every minute.
Over the past couple of months there have been days when I’ve felt really great about my current state of fitness, and others where I’ve really questioned my reasons for getting into all of this in the first place. Luckily, the great days far outnumber the questionable days and with this great race behind me, I’m feeling a lot more prepared to take on the longer distance in August. There’s a lot more power in my legs than I anticipated, and while my coach will undoubtedly have thoughts about what we’ll work on next, I’m particularly excited about seeing my bike performance improve.
A few random post-race thoughts:
- A French braid was definitely a good no-fuss triathlon hairstyle for this race (since my usual high pony or bun is fine for the swim and bike but no bueno for a bike helmet), but my hair was a rat’s nest in need of a lot of conditioner afterwards. Any of you fellow triathletes out there have any tips for avoiding this?
- Sleep and eating clean (in my opinion) were two huge contributing factors to this going so well. Over the past week I’ve been super diligent about my nutrition and have had some very early-to-bed nights – both evidently were good moves!
- Next time I need to remember to put BodyGlide or Vaseline on the back of my neck and on my chest where the zipper of my trisuit sits. There was no chafing anywhere else, but these two areas made for a painful post-race shower!
Other Training Notes
Outside of yesterday’s race, training has been going well. My weekly volume continues to build in 3-week phases, and my coach has been doing a great job of completely kicking my butt with workouts similar to this one on the bike and this one on the run. Along with the higher intensity sessions are some super (and I mean SUPER) low-intensity workouts which aren’t intended to have any fitness benefit whatsoever – they just serve as more of a body reset so that the high-intensity sessions can continue to be really high quality.
Health-wise, I’ve pared down the number of supplements I take on a daily basis because I’m of the mind that simple is better in a lot of life’s situations. There are two absolutely non-negotiable things that must be happening if I’m training well, and that’s 1) keeping my iron up, and 2) maintaining good gut/digestive health.
Iron-wise, I’m planning to have another blood test done as soon as my provincial health coverage kicks in to see if there have been any changes since earlier this year. I’m pretty sure that all is good on that front, thanks to the ferrous fumarate supplement I take daily. (For a lot more on how I’ve dealt with anemia as an athlete and all the supplements I’ve tried, check out my Running with Anemia post.)
As far as gut health goes, diet is a huge part but I also recently started taking a new probiotic from a company called Sound Probiotics, based in the US. Unlike some that I’ve taken in the past, these are specifically formulated for athletes, by athletes to help keep the gut healthy, the immune system strong, and reduce GI issues. If there’s one thing I definitely don’t have time for right now, it’s being sick, and so far (knock on wood), it’s been smooth sailing.
Sound Probiotics contain 8 probiotic strains studied specifically in athletes, and the brand is becoming well-known amongst some of the top pros in triathlon. If it’s good enough for amazing athletes like Rachel Joyce, then it’s good enough for me! If you’re interested, definitely check them out, and for those of you wondering, YES, they ship to Canada! 🙂
And last but not least, for those of you who love tracking your workouts and are journal junkies like me, I need to tell you about Journal Menu. They sent me this awesome personalized journal for triathlon training last month, and the timing was perfect because I’d just hit the last page of my old one.
You get to pick everything from your cover art, the type of daily page, whether you want pages for things like tracking PRs and body measurements, inspirational quotes, a plastic pocket…. it’s pretty darn awesome! My daily pages are formatted for triathlon, but you can get layouts for things like Crossfit, running, yoga, day planners, or general fitness. If you’re interested, you can get 15% off a journal personalized exactly the way you want it here.
Alright, that’s all! If you’ve made it this far, you’ve made my day. I hope you had an awesome weekend too, and if you haven’t yet, remember to enter my massive Vega giveaway – you’ve got until tomorrow, Tuesday July 7th at 8pm PST to get your comments in.
Before you go, I’d love to hear one thing that made you happy this weekend. Anything from a race result to time with family, or perhaps just time relaxing on your own. Let’s hear it!
PS. Apologies for the dark race photos – back to delicious looking food on Wednesday!