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Training For My First Triathlon

Training For My First Triathlon: The REV3 Niagara Falls Barrelman 70.3

While the main focus of my blog is food, travel and horror movies, I’ve recently decided to blog about my endurance races since I often travel for these adventures!  This year I’ve blogged about Why I Run and the Mississauga Marathon.  The following is the first post of a five part series: my training and race report from my first triathlon – the REV3 Niagara Falls Barrelman 70.3!

I had been eyeing the REV3 Niagara Falls Barrelman 70.3 race for a few years now.  While marathon training I came across the race after signing up for the Multisport Canada newsletter.  What I find humorous is that it never occurred to me that there were shorter triathlon options.  Nope, I had figured that this was what a triathlon was and it sounded pretty awesome!  So I jotted down “do a triathlon” on my list of New Year’s resolutions and kept an eye on the registration deadlines.

Unfortunately I was stuck in a bout of unemployment so I had to hold off on any unnecessary costs.

Months past.  The September 17th race day was now four months away.

I completed my 6th marathon at the the Mississauga Marathon in May, and had an interview the next morning.  Thankfully, I got the job and would now be biking to work. With the triathlon in mind, I started increasing my bike mileage a little bit each week.  I was a leisurely cyclist at best when I lived in the suburbs but after I moved downtown a year ago, I became a much more avid biker.

Now that I was employed, I could also afford to get a pass at the local community pool to brush up on my swimming.  Swimming is second nature for me and I feel perfectly at peace in the water.  What can I say, I’m a Scorpio – a water baby – at heart!  I grew up taking swimming lessons and continued onto the swim team in high school.  I had also left behind the pool in my condo when I moved downtown, so I hadn’t swam regularly in the past few years. Despite this, I was able to swim 2km no problem the first time I hit the water.

Summer flew by.  The day before the final registration deadline arrived.  On this particular day at work, we were told that our project was going on hiatus, for an indefinite length of time.  A normal person’s reaction might have been one of panic or anger, but nope, not me.  My boss and the CEO of the company looked at me bracing themselves for my reaction, and I merely replied “well I guess I will sign up for that half Ironman”.

Signing up for a half Ironman felt much different than signing up for a marathon. One lingers over that “confirm registration” button just a bit longer fighting off excuses and uncertainties.  But then that little voice in your head goes “ah to hell with it” and suddenly you’re signed up for your biggest challenge yet! 

Naturally, I panicked.

My biggest concern was the bike.  I knew that I could do it, but my current bike was a 7 year old urban hybrid and I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb.  The weekend after I registered, I biked to 43n kilometres to Oakville, about half the distance of the triathlon.  My pace was OK but my legs felt pretty wobbly, and I realized the advantages of lighter, faster road bike.  As luck would have it, a few days later I got a flat tire riding back home at night from volleyball practice.

The next day, I was complaining to my boss about my bike, and she told me that her ex-boyfriend had been a serious cyclist and had worked at a cycling store.  She had a brand new road bike that she had only ridden a few times before they broke up.  She offered to lend it to me and I nearly cried with joy!  Suddenly I had been upgraded from a crusty, heavy bike to a beautiful, brand new, light as a feather road bike!  I knew nothing about road biking and suddenly I was swimming in questions in regards to clipless pedals, aerobars and cadence.  

Below is a photo of the first time I tested out my snazzy new road bike.  The bike was borderline too big for me, but I remembered having sizing problems when I bought my urban hybrid.  I have short legs and a long torso so I remember having to saw down the saddle pole, so we did the same for this bike.  The hoods were incorrectly placed on the stem, and I also ended up swapping out this stem for a slightly smaller one.  Once the stem was adjusted and the saddle was shifted all the way forward, the bike felt perfect and was way more comfortable than my old bike, which now felt small and awkward. 

Training For My First Triathlon: The REV3 Niagara Falls Barrelman 70.3

Testing out my new road bike

With five weeks left I threw myself into training.  I became one with my road bike, read up on anything I could get my hands on about triathlons, and watched You Tube videos on tips for swimming and biking.  I also read Barrelman race reports from previous years and found videos on You Tube of race day . 

The difference between running and triathlons is that running can be a very solo, individual journey.  I had always trained on my own and saw my training time as a sort of private ritual. Triathlons felt like more of a community.  A fellow triathlete on the Barrelman Facebook group recommended the Women for Tri group and I found the support to be amazing and inspiring.  I reached out to friends who biked to go on long rides, and got to know the folk at my local bike shops who helped teach me bike maintenance 101.  For my first open water swim in a wetsuit, I signed up with the local triathlon club for a practice swim.  When I went to the cottage I asked my friends to canoe beside me so I could practice sighting while swimming across the lake.

Training For My First Triathlon: The REV3 Niagara Falls Barrelman 70.3

Swimming across Haystack Bay to Gardner Island

Training was coming along well and every day, my confidence grew.  Swim, bike, run, swim, bike, run.  Because of my condensed training schedule, my only “rest” days were Wednesdays when I played volleyball.  Swim, bike, run. Swim, bike, run. Each week I increased my distance and twice a week I would do a full brick training trio so I could run through my transitions. 

My plan for fuel was an extension of my marathon nutritional routine.  I decided to stick with gels for the runs and chews for the bike.  I tried gels while biking and the goo went everywhere and I ended up with very sticky stems!  The road bike came with a small bento box which fit a gummy pack and a broken up Cliff Bar.  I planned to tape two gummy packs to my bike frame for easy assess.  Before the run I planned to drink some coconut water and have a Honey Stinger Waffle for a motivating treat.  I trained with water and coconut water since the race was not going to have Gatorade like all the other races I had run.  I would later learn that coconut water is evil, as you will read about later.

As luck would have it, I met a girl who had done a few Ironmans and was now coaching newbie triathletes.  She helped me shop for a trisuit, gave me race day tips, and not only gave me bike tips regarding clipless pedals and my cadence but also lent me her set of aerobars!  Some of the more important tips she gave me were to use salt tabs to help with hydration and as a break from all the sugary gels and drinks.  She also went through the steps I would go through at the start of race day. I learned to set up my transition area and to carve out my own space by laying out an old towel on the ground to place all my bike gear on.

Here I am trying on my first trisuit.  Before signing up I fully thought that on race day you changed right out in the open between sports, haha!  I went with a Sugoi sleeveless trisuit which was super comfy and in my price range.  The polka dots were a fun bonus!  I’m wearing a Moving Comfort adjustable bra underneat, one of the best sports bras I’ve ever owned!

Training For My First Triathlon: The REV3 Niagara Falls Barrelman 70.3

Trying on my first trisuit at Enduro Sport

Now that I had my trisuit, I focused on the bike.  I went to Mountain Equipment Co-Op and bought the Garmin cadence meter, spd bike shoes and clipless pedals.

I was cramming a lot in a short amount of time, but I loved every minute.  Looking back I think the training kept me sane after the disappointment of going on unemployment again.

Two weeks before race day, I was at the cottage with some friends and was greatly enjoying the change of scenery.  Swimming in the open lake water was a welcome change of pace from the chlorine dosed waters of the community pool.  I was also trying out my aerobars for the first time and the quiet, winding country roads were an ideal place to test them out.  On the second day at the cottage, I received some unfortunate news. 

My Mom’s mental health had been declining for some time and my dad called to say that she had had a mental break.  She had started to physically abuse him and today he had called the police and she was taken away.  I had never heard my dad sound so shaken and to be far away from him during his time of need was hard to deal with.  Needless to say, I appreciated the time alone on my long bike rides and runs.

As soon as I could, I hopped on a plane to Ottawa.  My mom was in a mental health hospital now and seemed to be doing better.  I continued to train in Ottawa, finding a bike rental place nearby and thankfully there was even a YMCA with a clean, brightly lit pool across the street from my parent’s house.  I went for some beautiful long bike rides and runs along the canal and traveled out to some beaches and parks that I had never been to before. 

Every day I would train and then we would visit my mom, and this became the new norm.  I’m amazed how, with the exception of two marathons, disaster always seems to strike right before a race.  Almost like a final test before the big day.  But what doesn’t break you makes you stronger, and once again I was thankful to have my training as an outlet for the emotions I was feeling.

Training For My First Triathlon: The REV3 Niagara Falls Barrelman 70.3

A quick selfie by Hog’s Back Falls, Ottawa during a 21 km training run

One evening while at the hospital I found out that I would definitely not be returning back to the project that was still on hiatus.  I was really sad because I loved the company and had barely begun the project.  However, I could not afford to turn down any job offers at this point and that evening I accepted a job at the same company I had been at a year ago.  I was happy to be back among friends and on a solid project.

My first day back at work was the day after the triathlon.

Training For My First Triathlon: The REV3 Niagara Falls Barrelman 70.3

Beautiful bike ride by the Experimental Farm in Ottawa

With my mom in stable condition and less than a week before race day, I returned to Toronto, picked up all my stuff from my former job, picked up my wetsuit and packed for Niagara Falls.  The day before departure, I went to the park and practiced some yoga.  I wanted some time by myself to stretch out my muscles and calm my mind. 

The past 6 weeks had been a whirlwind of events and physically and mentally I was wired.  I felt sad that my parents would not be able to see me race, and I felt anxious about the race and the new job that I would start the following day.  As the sun set over the park and the city lights flickered on, I felt proud of all I had accomplished over the past 6 weeks.  I felt ready.  Focused.  Hungry.  I was going to kill this.

Next week >> my race report from my first triathlon: the REV3 Niagara Falls Barrelman 70.3!

Mississauga Marathon: Why I Run

A few weeks ago, I ran the Mississauga Marathon, my sixth marathon I’m proud to say!  Over three years had passed since I last ran 42 kilometres, so I was a bit nervous going into this race…would I be able to pull off another full marathon?  I thought this would be a good time to write a post about how I started racing, and why I love to run.

Mississauga Marathon Why I Run

Ottawa Marathon

I hated running in middle school gym class.  Tossed out onto the street without any training, we were instructed to run around the block sporting our frumpy gym clothes.  Only a few kids advanced to the next “level”, while the rest of us simply gave up, and miserably walked the same route over and over.  In high school, I stayed away from running and joined the swim team.   I tried to keep up swimming throughout university, along with biking and the occasional kickboxing class. 

I ran my first 5K in 2008 with my best friend.  We had signed up for the Princess Margaret Multiple Myeloma 5K in memory of her mom.  The morning of the race, we did everything wrong!  I ate an oatmeal muffin for breakfast and we ran in our winter coats, haha!  We overheated quickly and had to tie our bulky coats around our waists.  My fibrous breakfast kicked in near the end and I bolted across the finish line and ran straight into the Port-O-Potty!  But I learned from my mistakes and in 2009 I tried again and ran the 5K Run For The Cure.  The race was the same day as the Toronto Marathon, and as I watched the runners pass by me in awe I thought to myself “wow those people are crazy, I could never do that!”.

I caught the racing bug and the following year I ran the Sporting Life 10K. A few months later I conquered the Midsummer Night’s Dream 15K and finally my first half in the fall of 2010 at the Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon.  Each time I completed a race, I set a new goal for myself and after I finished the half, forty two kilometres didn’t seem so impossible anymore.  

The time had come to sign up for the full marathon.

Mississauga Marathon Why I Run

Running to the start line for my first marathon! – Toronto Marathon

Training began in 2011 and with every passing month, I fine tuned my regime.  I imposed a strict diet on myself: no alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, dairy or gluten with limited red meat intake. I’ve since posted on my blog about how I try to eat more lamb instead of beef or pork when I’m training.  Halfway through training, I developed an ache on the outer side of my knee after I pushed myself too hard on a long run.  I learned all about my IT band, a common distress among runners,  I had never known pain until my massage therapist pressed on my super tight bands!  I bought a pair of IT straps that helped to ease the strain and have run with them ever since.  

The day of the marathon started off wet and rainy, but I didn’t mind too much, the cool droplets felt refreshing.  To this day I don’t mind a little rain on my runs!  The race was going well until the last few kilometres that went up a slow incline.  My goal, like many first time runners, was to run non-stop so I didn’t pay attention to my pace. By this point, I was running so slowly that my body was overly strained, and when I hit those last few kilometres I thought I was going to die!  I remember an elderly man passed by me and it made me feel like I was running in slow motion.  

Mississauga Marathon Why I Run

Goodlife Fitness Toronto Marathon 2011 – near the finish line

My best friend, my ex-husband, his mother and brother all waited for me at the finish line that I crossed after 5 hours and 19 minutes.  I had never been so happy to see familiar faces! My best friend ran the last bit of the race with me and I collapsed into the arms of my mother-in-law.  That evening I soaked in the tub and marathon-watched Kitchen Nightmares.  This was also the day that I fell in love with Gordon Ramsay, I guess I’m a bit masochistic!  I was super proud of myself for accomplishing my goal, but there were many things I wanted to improve on, including my time.

The next day, I signed up for another marathon.

The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon was only 4 months away and I resolved to be even more diligent with my training schedule. The only hiccup being that I was traveling for a month to Peru and Bolivia.  I had planned to cram in a lot of training once I returned home, but unexpectedly, I landed a job my first day back and was swept up in a very busy contract.  I wasn’t feeling prepared and tried to swap my bib for the half but there were no takers.  

At the race expo I picked up a pair of compression socks, and they’ve since become one of my most prized pieces of running gear.  Compression socks help prevent swelling and promote recovery after a long run and I noticed a big difference in my recovery time after wearing them, I highly recommend buying a pair if you regularly run over 15K.

My friend was signed up for the half so we decided to start off together.  But on the day of the race, the grounds were crowded and chaotic and we couldn’t find each other.  While trying to find my friend, I was distracted and forgot to take my bib out of my bag before I handed it off to my ex-husband.  Cell phone-less and in a panic, I begged a kind stranger for their phone so I could call him to bring my bag back.  I managed to line up in my corral with minutes to spare but it was a terrible way to start the race.

Despite the rocky start, by the halfway mark I was still going strong.  Around this time, I discovered pace bunnies: runners who wore bunny ears and held signs with target finishing times.  I matched my pace with theirs and used them as markers as I tried to stay ahead of the pack.  Before I knew it I had crossed the finish line in 4 hours and 50 minutes, a new personal best!  After this race, I understood the importance of pacing, and proper prep.

I registered for another marathon.

Mississauga Marathon Why I Run

Facebook status after the 2011 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

The Niagara Falls International Marathon was the following fall so I had ample time to train and prepare properly.  Unfortunately, a month before the marathon, my cat was diagnosed with diabetes and kidney disease, and life became very stressful.  Seeing my sweet, innocent pet in pain was awful and I felt frustrated trying to figure out how to help her.  

A week before the marathon, I was trail running and sprained my ankle, badly.  I had run down a small dip in the trial, and rolled my ankle on a tree root.  I knew the second it happened that the sprain was a bad one.  Luckily there was creek nearby and I immediately dipped my foot into the freezing cold stream. My luck worsened as it started to rain, and back then I didn’t run with my cell phone.  Soaking wet, I hobbled to the closest station and waited forever for the bus to come.  

I spent the days before the marathon alternating between visits to my chiropractor for my ankle and shuttling my sick kitty to the vet.  The chiropractor visits helped the swelling go down, and I was able to walk on my ankle by the end of the week.  I arranged for a friend to take care of my cat for the weekend, and we headed up to Niagara Falls Friday evening.  

Mississauga Marathon Why I Run

Niagara Falls International Marathon

I had come prepared with an armful of supplies: an ankle brace, physio tape and tea tree oil to reduce swelling, my trusty compression socks, and extra strength Advil and freezing gel for after the race.  The day before I ran a few kilometres during the warm up gathering, and my ankle felt OK.  After a quick and hilariously scary trip through the Nightmares haunted house, I crossed my fingers and went to bed early.

The race started off on the other side of the falls in Buffalo, and the weather was perfect; a clear, blue sky filled with crisp, fresh air.  I wore my favourite dry wick shorts and my lucky tank top with some new armbands just in case it was chilly by the water.  The course was a dream – nice and flat, surrounded by pretty scenery.  The run across the bridge back into Canada was really cool, too.  My ankle miraculously cooperated and as I ran around the last bend, a brilliant rainbow appeared over the falls.  Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” shuffled onto my iPod as I crossed the finish line, a perfect note to end on.

I completed the race in 4 hours and 5 minutes, a new personal best!  Overall I felt awesome and I counted my lucky stars that I didn’t have to run in pain.  I was a bit shaken from my injury and it took me a few years to return to trail running.  Needless to say, I will never run on a trail so close to race day ever again!  I was happy with my time, but I started eyeing the Boston Marathon, and I wanted to qualify.

So I registered for another full.

Mississauga Marathon Why I Run

Niagara Falls International Marathon

My parents lived in Ottawa at that time, so the next marathon I decided to conquer was the Tamarack Ottawa Marathon the following May.  Training went smoothly and it helped that my gym was beside my office.  I felt confident going into the race, and thankful that I didn’t have any injuries this time!

Race weekend took over the city creating a fun and lively atmosphere in the capitol.  My dad drove me around for my standard pre-race route scout while my mom made comforting comments like “you’re going to run all this way?  You’re going to die!”.  

My parents lived close to the start line, so the morning of the race was one of the easiest.  The weather was cool, cloudy and I felt excited.  This course was one of my favourites, and the most interesting to date. Winding along the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River, across the river to Gatineau then back into Ottawa and past 24 Sussex, we finished at Parliament Hill.  The race was also special to me because it was the first time my parents were able to see me run. Ottawa was my strongest run so far and I ran a personal best clocking in at 3 hours and 48 minutes.  

I still needed to shave off 18 seconds to qualify for Boston…so I signed up for another marathon.

20170529_Mississauga Marathon Why I Run

Tamarack Ottawa Marathon

I decided to register for the Run For Heroes Amherstburg Marathon for World Alzheimer’s Day for a couple of reasons.  Amherstburg was a scenic, flat course that many people had achieved their personal best.  The town was close to London, where my best friend lived so I planned to visit her.  Finally, I believed in the cause.  My grandmother died from Alzheimers, and my best friend’s grandmother was suffering from the disease at that time, so this race was dedicated to them.

I had also signed up for Tough Mudder, a 12 mile obstacle course race that I trained for with my first personal trainer.  Between running and the Tough Mudder training, I was in the best shape of my life.  Then, my world turned upside down.

One month before race day, my marriage fell apart.  My husband and I decided to separate and I headed into some of the darkest months of my life. Thankfully, I kept running and all the extra training kept me grounded.  While I was grateful for all the support I received from my friends, this also resulted in a lot of drinking and smoking, something I would never do before a race. The weekend arrived, and my best friend came along with me to Amherstburg.  This wasn’t going to be pretty, but I knew I would cross that finish line in one form or another.

I was blessed with another perfect race day, without a cloud in the sky, and only about two hundred fellow marathon runners.  For some parts of the race I was completely by myself, with only a lone pace bunny running beside me.  While this was a very different experience from other races, I took this as an opportunity to clear my head and be alone with my thoughts.  I had a lot to think about during this run.

3 hours and 46 minutes later, I finished the marathon, a personal best but still 16 minutes shy of a Boston qualifying time.  I was amazed that I had PR’d given the abuse I had afflicted on my body and attributed my success to pure mental will, and Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” that carried me through the last kilometre.

Mississauga Marathon Why I Run

Run for Heroes Marathon in Amherstberg

I took a break from training after Amherstburg.  I met a cute boy and suddenly I no longer had time for three hour runs on a Sunday.  Exercising with my boyfriend was much more fun, and we would bike, rollerblade and weight train together.  While I still ran once and awhile, I had also started to play volleyball year round, so fitting in long runs became trickier.

But in the back of my mind, the Boston qualifying time still haunted me.

At the beginning of 2017, I was in between contracts, and firmly decided that it was time to get back into the running groove and start chasing that Boston qualifying time once more.  I signed up for the Mississauga Marathon, buckled down and started training.  I went back to logging my meals on My Fitness Pal and added more weight training to my exercise schedule.  Sunday afternoon runs became my new ritual and I was really focused on a proper recovery routine that included chocolate almond milk, yoga, an Epson salt bath, foam rolling and a healthy, protein rich dinner.

I had trained harder for this marathon than any of the other races and I reached my target distance of 37 kilometres on schedule.  The following week I started to ramp down in mileage.  I was 20 kilometres into a 35 km run, when a horrible pain flared up around my hip bone. My hip had ached a bit the previous week, but I had shrugged it off as regular wear and tear.  The pain became so bad that I pulled over and tried to stretch it out, but it wouldn’t cease.  I discovered I had hip bursitis, when the fluid filled sacs that provide cushioning around the joints become inflamed.  I spent a week focusing on recovery and only ran short sprints to work on my speed. While my hip was feeling a bit better, I decided to get a cortisone shot for insurance.  There was no way I wanted this to creep up on race day!

Mississauga Marathon: Why I Run

Mississauga Marathon – getting ready to race!

The week before the marathon it rained every day.  I kept a weary eye on the forecast but the weather was looking dreary for race day.  I waterproofed by shoes and arm band, and went for a run in the rain to prep myself for the worst case scenario.  

But as luck would have it, the weather cleared just in time and the morning of the race was cloudy but chilly.  I revised my gear and opted for tights and my trusty running jacket.  We arrived in plenty of time to score a good parking spot, and I mentally prepared myself by warming up and taking my final bathroom breaks.  

I started off strong and was enjoying the ease of the downhill course.  The route alternated between the scenic campus of the University of Toronto Mississauga to pretty rural streets and industrial areas.  I felt a bit overheated in my jacket, but was thankful for the extra protection when we hit the lakefront.  I was making great time up until the 22km mark when the wind turned against me as I started running up a slow incline, brutal!  From this point on the course was very hilly and was much harder than any other course I had run.

Mississauga Marathon: Why I Run

Mississauga Marathon – near the finish line

I passed the finish line after 4 hours and 7 minutes, not a personal record but certainly not my worse.  The best part was when I saw my boyfriend at the finish line, this was the first time he had seen me race so I wanted to impress him!  The course was tough but I was very happy with my time, especially considering that it had been three years since my last marathon.

Mississauga Marathon Why I Run

Mississauga Marathon

People often say to me “wow, I could never do that, what do you think about for so many hours?” but for me the time flies.  When I’m not pre-occupied thinking about the practical aspects of the race: my form, my hydration and gel schedule, pacing; my mind wanders into wonderful daydreams.  Sometimes I just envision the finish line – “if you dream it you can do it” – they say, and it’s the truth!  I’m still dreaming about a Boston Marathon qualifying time, but until then I have a new goal: I want to run 10 marathons by the time I turn 40 (I stole that idea from Gordon Ramsay!).

I love to race because I find personal satisfaction when I accomplish fitness goals, and I’m also fascinated by how far we can push our bodies.  When my feet hit the pavement, that time alone is special to me.  I can escape from the world and focus on whatever I want.  I’m free, I have two legs and a healthy body and I feel so lucky that I’m able to run, and believe that anybody can do the same.  

I’m not superhuman, I’m just a regular girl who hated running.

Do you love to run?  What’s your running story? Have you ever raced in the Mississauga Marathon?