Monday, June 21, 2010

Ride to Conquer Cancer

While there have been many breakthroughs in research for treatment, prevention and cure, stats say that one in three Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime. A full one-third of us will hear those terrifying words - "You have cancer". So it was with hope of playing a small, small, infintesimal part in the monumental task of conquering cancer that I joined 2000 riders on a two-day journey from Vancouver (well, Surrey) to Seattle (actually Redmond) to raise awareness and funds for the BC Cancer Agency.

The ride itself is symbolic. There were words and themes repeated during the course of the weekend - Hope. Courage. Loss. Inspiration. The 250 kilometres covered over the course of the two days were not supposed to be easy. It was meant to be a challenge and a testament to the human spirit.

The gravity of the event struck me before I even started pedaling on Saturday morning. Arriving in Surrey at 6am on Saturday morning, there were literally thousands upon thousands of people out to show their support. Riders, survivors, volunteers, support crew, families. It was amazing to see the turnout, and even more astonishing to hear that amongst this crowd, over $9.2 million was raised. The opening ceremonies had me in tears - it was a memorial for all those who lost their battles, a celebration of life for those that had survived theirs and a call to action that future generations benefit from the funds raised.

Day 1: Surrey to Mount Vernon, WA - 129km

Word of the day: EPIC.

At 7:15am, we clipped in and began our journey. I have never experienced such chaos on a bike! Utmost care was required during the first few kilometres to stay clear of other riders. It is here that I will express my only non-weather related criticism of the event - for the first 30km to the border, the lead vehicles held the riders back at a top speed of 30kph including downhill. Whatever the organizers were trying to accomplish had the opposite effect - it was a dangerous, chaotic, unsafe log-jam of riders. The faster riders had nowhere to go and as the masses swelled into the back of the lead vehicles, you were forced to swerve and ride your brakes just to stay off the crowd. Bad, bad situation.

The border crossing, as a result, was total chaos but I managed to cross fairly quickly. Once clear of the pack of riders, I skipped through the first Pit Stop at Blaine Middle School and opened up along the coast. The first section -winding down along the coast- was scenic and fast. I realized that I was going a little hard, but didn't really care. It just felt good to be moving.

The weather turned out to be glorious, sunny and warm, but with a fairly substantial south headwind. I had decided to take Ora out for the ride - although she was not ideal for riding in the masses at the beginning, she was perfect for the long straight stretches through the countryside. I deliberately stayed out of the draft of the pelotons and just enjoyed being down in the aerobars. A group of about 15 riders caught me on the north side of Bellingham and I noticed that my brother-in-law Mark was part of the group, so I latched on for a short section through town, feeling that it was safer to be part of the group. After a quick break around 87km, the most challenging (but beautiful) section of road began past Padden Park and around Lake Samish, followed by a final uninspired section of straights (complete with headwind and rough pavement) into Mount Vernon.

We rolled into the Mount Vernon camp around 12:30pm to find that there were only about 20 bikes racked....where was everyone?!! It was pretty cute when a couple of the volunteers and spectators took my picture because I was the first female rider across the line. However, they thought I had completely lost my marbles when I quickly changed and headed out for a short 5k brick run :)

Had a great little run, then back to camp for a massage and shower. There was no wait for the massage (woo-hoo!!!) and the shower facilities totally rocked - after a warm shower, a blow dry (lux camping!!!) and some snacks, I felt recharged and ready around and do nothing! We spent the afternoon savoring regional delicacies....aka Rainier Beer and smokies, but honestly by around 6pm I was ready to call it a day :)

The tent city was quite something to behold. There were rows upon rows of little blue tents and the facilities in general seemed to be sufficient to hold the 2000 riders and support crew. There were never really any substantive line-ups and the services were quite adequate, although I must say that I was quite thankful that it was dry, sunny and warm.

Day 1 GPS stats:
Run: 5.18km in 23:32; Pace 4:32 min/km.

Day 2: Mount Vernon to Redmond, WA - 119km

Word of the day: SOGGY.

My tentmate thankfully woke me around 5:15am. After peeling my sore back off the thermarest (I am apparently not as young as I once was....sleeping on the ground did me no favors), I quickly headed out for breakfast. I knew I needed to move quickly to avoid the crowds. Sure enough, we had just enough time to eat, pack up and get the bikes ready before the masses overran the camp. When the ride started at 7:15am there were still hundreds left in the camp lined up for breakfast and packing up.

Quite the opposite of the previous day, Day 2 brought us fog, mist and a bit of chill. Even though the headwind was gone, it was a soggy, cold ride.

Heading south towards Lake Stevens and Snohomish, the route was scenic albeit more technical than the previous day. There were a number of obstacles made worse by the marginal conditions - about a dozen railway crossings, a treacherous downhill wooden bridge and substantive mileage spent on narrow paved bike paths with regular stops for gates and turnouts. As a result, the average speed dropped quite substantially and caution was the word of the day. I saw three wipeouts first-hand, and judging from some of the bumps and bruises at the finish, suspect that there were quite a few accidents on Day 2.

At the Lake Stevens "lunch" stop (I think it was only 10:30am!), I was getting chilly and decided to skip any further breaks. I only had a thin shell and knew that if I did not keep moving that hypothermia would set in very quickly. I rode pretty much the entire way on my own - thankfully the route was extremely well-marked. The section through Snohomish was fairly hilly and it was here that I decided to take off my rain shell because the sky was brightening up and it had started to warm up. Of course, murphy's law, the deluge set in about 10 minutes later and I was forced to slog the last 30km in downpour without a rain jacket on. I knew that if I stopped I would get too cold, so just moved on as fast as the conditions would bear.....VERY eager to be finished.

I arrived at the finish line just after noon - very soggy and very happy to be finished. There were only about 15 bikes when I arrived and I felt very, very sorry for anyone who was still out in the deluge. The dreary weather unfortunately cast a little pallor on the finish line - what should have been a celebration was a dash for dry clothes and shelter!

The synopsis? An extremely well-organized event and a worthy cause. My team members, sponsored by Fairmont Hotels and Maple Leaf Foods, raised $53,760 and a total of $9.2 million was raised by the BC riders.

Moreover, it was a worthwhile and inspiring experience. I rode alongside survivors, marked by their yellow flags, whose will to live was so infectious and inspiring. I also rode alongside so many who had lost loved ones - children, parents, spouses, friends - a heartwrenching reminder of why cancer research is so important.

And I wore sunscreen, even in the rain.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thanks, guys!

My tri shop, Speed Theory,has updated their website. It's great - with links to product websites, information on stuff going on at the shop and details on races and events the peeps are participating in.

I'm also totally flattered that they've put a link to my blog on their site! Thanks!! You guys rock....but you knew that already :)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Oliver half-iron race report

As part of the lead-up to IMC, I have signed up for two half-distance races - the Oliver half and Subaru Vancouver (in July). I had mixed feelings going to Oliver this weekend - I had not trained specifically for this race, it was just part of the comprehensive IMC training plan. At the same time, I have never trained so much in my life so by all standards was probably as ready for a half-iron as I ever would be....that is to say, assuming that one is ever really ready to swim 2k, bike 93k and then run a half marathon :)

The day before the race was not ideal pre-race prep - it felt rushed, un-relaxed and chaotic. The night before the race was even worse - I had a lot of trouble sleeping and only managed to nod off around 2am...which meant a mere 2hrs 45 of sleep before the longest distance triathlon I have ever done.

Race morning turned out perfect weather-wise. It was warm, yet overcast and although rain threatened, it never appeared. I arrived at transition around 6:15am, which gave me just over an hour to get my transition set up, change into my wetsuit and head over to the swim start. It ended up feeling a little rushed, note to self to leave more time.

Following the men's wave start at 7:30am, I took my place with the women at the edge of the lake. My experience with open water starts has been mixed and even with the amount of swimming I have done this year, I was nervous about the swim and did not want to overestimate my abilities. My plan was to find my pace and keep it nice and easy.

That plan lasted exactly 200m.

As expected, the start was a clawing, splashing mess. Totally unexpected, I was kicked HARD in the abdomen. Involuntarily, I righted myself in the water, started hyperventilating and threw up a little. Yes, I puked. How gross is that?? So much for calm. I flipped onto my back and started was awful. Tears in my eyes, I flipped over and breaststroked through the melee, trying to get the courage up to put my face under the water.

At this point I was being passed by everyone like a lame fish in the school. I was breathing hard, heart racing and tears welled in my eyes. This was crazy. I can't swim. I can't even breathe. I was sweating in my wetsuit, making my goggles fog with tears and just wanted to get out. NOW. It took every ounce of will not to swim over to the rescue zodiac that was so conveniently located about 25m away.

A few more kicks on my back. Wait a minute, did I really work this hard to give up now? Could I salvage something out of this start? Could I calm down, put my face in the water and start moving forward again?

I moved out of the masses and into calmer water to the far left, breathed deep and started slowly swimming towards the next buoy. It felt like 15 minutes had passed and I was only at the second buoy. No matter, I would just breathe easy and move forward. Left, right, breathe, repeat. I tried to forget where I was and lose myself in the monotony. Left, right, breathe. After what felt like an eternity, I reached the 800m buoy, my first turn. Around the buoy. Left, right, breathe. I started sighting every fifth breath and was quite surprised to find that I was actually tracking straight. Small victory. Left, right, breathe. Just before the next turn, I saw a blue cap...a male swimmer. I had caught someone. Another small victory.

After rounding the 1500m buoy, I found a little more courage and picked up my pace. I was almost in. I would forget what the clock would tell me, shake it off and get on with my race. As I looked up exiting the water, the clock said 48 minutes. Subtract 10 for my wave and I was out in 38 minutes. Not good, but I had survived the swim. Wetsuit yanked off, I hobbled down the looooong transition area to my bike.

I was still a bit upset by the time I reached my bike and decided to take my time in T2. There would be no more crying today. Breathe, relax, get ready to ride.

When I started pedaling away, I immediately noticed something wrong with my rear brake. It was dragging on the rim of my tire and as hard as I pedaled, it just fought with me. Drag, drag, drag, drag. I couldn't believe it. From one thing to the next. I tried adjusting the brake, but realized that I was just going to cause an accident if I did so, so ended up pulling over at the junction of Hwy 97 and Tucelnuit Drive, about 10k into the ride. Got off the bike and adjusted the brake. Aaaaaah. Pedaling has never felt so easy as it did then.

After these two upsetting setbacks, I was unamused. Instead of giving up, though, I took control. I started passing people on Tucelnuit, one after the other. Stayed in my aerobars, kept my cadence quick, and fixated on enjoying the gorgeous course along Black Sage Road. I rode consistently but not out of my comfort zone, and when I noticed that my average pace was just over 34kph, decided to keep it up. I was passing more riders than were passing me and felt great (in all, the stats tell me that I passed 116 riders on the bike). After having such an awful swim and losing so much confidence in my bike during the previous two weeks it was uplifting to feel like I was doing something well.

At the intersection of Hwy 97 my tubes ejected from the back cage when I bumped over the cattle guard. Had to get off my bike again, run down the hill, pick up the tubes, run back up the hill and get back on the bike. Damn!!! At this point, I resigned myself to the fact that the stars were simply not aligned for me. This was a training race after all, and lessons are there to be learned.

The next lesson I would learn would be about hydration. My new speedfil made it easy for me to drink on the fly, and I made sure that I ate my GU chomps and gels on regular intervals whether I felt like it or not. I thought that I was drinking lots, but to my chagrin, realized upon racking my bike that I had only drank half of my water. That meant I had a mere 500mL of fluid over 3 1/2 hours of activity.

Bike to run transition went smooth, I stopped for a quick potty stop, and headed off on the run. I knew that with so little fluid in me that I would fade fast in the heat of the day - it was probably about 18 degrees at this point - and made a concerted effort to stop at each and every water station. I made a wonderful discovery - flat cola is gooood stuff. Down went a half glass of cola and a couple sips of water at each water station.

My pace for the first 10k was decent - about 4:45/km, but as I expected with the lack of hydration, fatigue quickly set in. My long-shot goal run time was 1:39, and I abandoned this quickly, instead shooting for my realistic goal run time of 1:45. It wasn't a stellar run for me - actually just plain slow in my books - but it was a consistent effort.

I had two thoughts as I crossed the finish line. Damn, that was harder than I thought. Double damn, how am I going to go TWICE that distance in less than three months?!

Not a perfect race by any standards but I finished 70.3 in one piece and am proud that I hung in there. My synopsis of the day:

1. Totally pooched the swim. Open water survival techniques need vast improvement.
2. Rocked the bike. Ora, you are a good girl. I'm sorry I swore at you last week.
3. Survived the run. I can do better than just survive.

I have two and a half-months to learn, train and learn more before IMC. Four weeks to put it to the test at the Subaru Vancouver. Wish me luck! :)

Thanks to Coach Calvin, everyone at Speed Theory and all the peeps at PSTC for getting me this far....we're having fun now right!?

Finish: 5:12:42
Swim: 38:06
Bike: 2:41:52 (34.5 kph)
T2: 1:42
Run: 1:45:31

Overall: 142/971
Women: 27/444
Category: 6/77