Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How to be a weekend warrior in 5 easy steps

One of the definitions of weekend warrior in the urban dictionary is "a person who holds a regular job during the week which restricts their ability to....partake in awesome activities, and thus plans epic weekend adventures to compensate.  As much variation and quantity of awesomeness is packed into the weekends as physically possible...".  

This past weekend was definitely in the style of the weekend warrior, and involved much packing, logistics and some ingenuity to make it all happen.  It was my mom's birthday, so our family gathered at my aunt and uncle's lovely home in Westbank (sans aunt and uncle, who were traveling) to celebrate.  Two kids, two dogs and a small space always makes for interesting times!

Not being one to pass up a little suffering, my training plan amidst the birthday festivities was to participate in the inaugural RBC Kelowna GranFondo on Saturday and do the Peach Classic olympic distance tri on Sunday.  The across the lake swim was also going on Saturday morning...but alas, it conflicted with the bike ride!  :)

All in all, there was much awesomeness jammed in (and very little sleep).  Some tips on how to make a successful and awesome warrior weekend for yourself:  

1.  Look the part

The package pick-up and expo for the Kelowna GranFondo was smooth, efficient and well organized.  We were quickly handed our packets and ushered into the merchandise area, where I was very quickly suckered  persuaded into assembling myself a custom pair of Oakley split jackets.  To be honest, I have had my eye on these very slick looking frames for a while, am a bit of an Oakley junkie and was probably a very easy sell.  However, Jeff from Fresh Air Concept was adept at enabling my weakness for high-priced sunnies - he assembled a great looking black and red pair to match my Speed Theory kit, including two pairs of vented lenses so very quickly that I was unable to balk and run away!

Do slick matching sunglasses make you a faster weekend warrior?  You bet!

2.  Ride hard or go home

5am Saturday morning brought a gorgeous, calm and sunny Okanagan summer morning.  Yippee!!  There has been so much Saturday morning rain slogging this season that the prospect of NOT having to ride in the rain brought on relentless joy.  My brother-in-law Mark and I showed up early, which turned out to be needless because the good folks at TOIT learned many a lesson from the start of the Whistler GranFondo (WGF) last year.  Unlike the chaos of the WGF start, Kelowna was laid-back, well organized and really pleasant.  Lots of bike racks, potties and space to move, and the riders in general were less aggressive and pushy.  There were only 1400 riders and the event had a grassroots, happy feel to it.

Without ado, at 7am sharp we were off for a (supposed) 115k journey along Okanagan Lake to Vernon, with a return loop back to Kelowna along Kalamalka Lake, Wood Lake and through Oyama.  The route was stunning and challenging, with a tough climb up to Predator Ridge, some interesting and technical terrain and fast downhills featuring gorgeous vistas of the valley over Kalamalka lake.  I was really impressed with the course support - you pulled over and the volunteers just took over.  Water bottle full, handfuls of snacks and off you went!

This was a catered training ride for me and I rode fairly hard, averaging a very nice 31 kph over some challenging terrain, including a very slow 5k section of gravel.  Mark fell victim to a couple flats, so Ruby and I were left to show those mamils how it's done.  Was back and forth with a good group of riders after Vernon, but on the way back to Kelowna we were accidentally steered off course by one of the volunteers.  It didn't seem right to turn, but the vollie said nothing to the contrary so I followed her directions around the corner.  Along with 2 other riders, we rode just over 4k before realizing we were off course.  The nearly 9k diversion cost me 20 minutes!  Although it is not a race, I was frustrated that the vollie steered us off course because (a) I did not want the extra distance and (b) it cost me one of the top women's positions (and bragging rights!) in the ride.  Argh!  Official finish time - 3:56 for 123k, but would have finished at 3:37 were it not for the bad directions.

Big warrior points for not only riding hard....but doing extra to boot!  Hey, at least I looked good doing it...  ;)

3.  Be a survivor

Saturday afternoon and evening brought with it rain clouds, kids pool time and the usual chaos in the extended Frank family household.  My sister's dog consumed not only all of poor Bogey's treats but also my pre-race nutrition (who knew dogs ate Bonk Bars?), numerous pieces of furniture were broken in (or is that broken?) and my niece Lily now has a lifelong fear of birthday sparklers.  Best quote of the day: "Mama burned a hole in my pants and a hole in my leg!".  Luckily, many a two-year-old's problems can be solved with chocolate cake.  

With some stroke of luck, the casualties of the weekend were limited to a number of bottles of wine, a mouse (poor mouse) and Lily's leggings.  Being a weekend warrior is all about surviving.  That being said, some cautionary words of advice to anyone planning a family reunion:  damage deposit.

4.  Tri hard

If you thought a 5am wake up on a Saturday morning was bad, try 3:45 am on the subsequent morning.  Weekend warrior day 3, sponsored by caffeine.

The 6:45am start for the Peach Classic not only necessitated this early start, but also required me to be supremely organized.  Car packed and ready to go the night before, I left Westbank promptly at 4:45am to make it to Penticton at 5:30am for check in at the race.  An Olympic distance tri does not play to my strengths at all, with its inordinately long swim leg compared to the bike and run portions.  However, my recent toils over open water swimming made this a good training experience for me, knowing ahead of time that to do well I would need to swim well.  And, to be clear, I just don't swim very well at all.

The two loop swim in choppy water was rough on me.  It was a personal success insofar that I managed not to panic despite the torrid conditions and congested start.  I knew coming out of the water that I had a lot of ground to make up on tired legs, but embraced the challenge of the chase.  The 40k ride along the Naramata bench is fast, helluva good time on a tri bike and by the time I returned to transition I felt somewhat better about things.  The flat, looped run course along Lakeside was little boring, but you do get to see everyone around you. My legs were tired but in a good way and I put in a solid run effort at what was essentially half-iron pace (but dismayed to note that the 10k was almost .5k long, turning my 42 minute 10k into a 43-something posted time!).

After a dismal swim, I posted the 6th fastest women's bike split of the day and 5th fastest women's run split of the day to finish a solid 10th woman and 4th in a competitive AG.  Really, really must learn how to swim dammit!  

5.  Eat, drink, be merry

Hedonistic gastronomic excess rounded out the remainder of the weekend.  One must really bask in the simple pleasures once in a while, particularly when those simple pleasures include a reward of french fries, fish tacos and wine touring.  The Naramata bench boasts some fabulous wineries, amongst them some incredible family-run, small-lot vineyards that are definitely worth seeking out.  The hidden gem award of the weekend goes to Nichol Vineyard, while humble and unapologetic in its simplicity, easily has the best Okanagan Pinot Noir I have ever tried.  The tasting was manned by an interesting fellow named Matt, who could tell you not only where the location of the crop was that produced the wine you were tasting, but also had an unassuming intelligence about the entire operation and the wines they produce.  We got to try not only the bottled vintages, but also several wines direct from the cask in varying states of readiness...all incredible.  I almost don't want to spill the secret!

You would think that all this weekend warrior awesomeness would just make me tired, but it doesn't.  Today, back at work, I feel energized, enthusiastic, inspired and look forward to the next great adventure!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sometimes racing is training!

I entered the Subaru Vancouver half-iron on a whim only four days before race day.  The weather forecast was looking decent and my recovery post-Boise was at a point where I felt I could at least put in a training effort for the duration of the race.  After all, the race is basically in my backyard and is a fantastic opportunity to try out some new things during a race that otherwise holds very little priority for me.

So this race report is essentially my personal assessment of how I faired compared to my very quickly drawn up objectives for this training race.   It is also interesting to have quantifiable comparatives since I did the same race last year.

Swim Goal - Be Calm, Cool, Collected.
2010 result:  37:27;  2011 result: 35:47, -1:40

The swim is undeniably my weakest link.  I am extremely nervous in the water and not a comfortable swimmer in the least - swimming in large groups of churning open water is absolutely panic-inducing.  I hyperventilate, forget everything I have ever learned and usually end up doing some version of the funky chicken backstroke.

Today was no exception - I failed miserably in my attempt to stay CCC, and even did WORSE at controlling my panic than I did at the Canada Day 2k only two days ago.  The first lap of the course was miserable, and I just could not pull myself together.  I collected myself on land after the first lap and managed to talk myself back into getting in, but barely.  It was a rough, frustrating swim and I never got comfortable.

Swim objective rating:  FAIL.
Serious, serious work on composure in open water starts required.

Bike Goal:  Tone it Down.
2010 result: 2:44:42;  2011 result: 2:39:28, -5:14

While I felt that I could improve on last year's time, I wanted to experiment with generally toning down my bike speed to see if it would improve my run.  My time goal was 2:40 - this is about 5 minutes slower than Boise, but still almost 5 minutes faster than last year.  I also wanted to ensure that I was taking in nutrition properly - gel every 30 minutes and a bottle of GU Brew per hour.

I find this bike course difficult - the 4 laps at UBC are choppy and I find it challenging to get in a rhythm.  By the second lap, you get lost in the sea of riders doing different paces and the turnarounds really mess up consistency.  There are short fast sections, but it is very, very broken up.  I rode the first lap at about 80% effort and was pleased to find that I was dead on goal pace at 40 minutes.  Overall, my ride felt very comfortable, and none of my previous headache or vision problems reappeared.  It was a somewhat frustrating to make a concerted effort to slow down to ensure I took in my nutrition, but that was the plan so I stuck with it.  It was also difficult to hold back and not push the way I usually do on the bike. Time-wise, I executed exactly on plan albeit feeling like I had left quite a bit out on the course.

Ride objective rating:  SATISFACTORY WITH COMMENTS.
Although I felt great getting off the bike, think I left a little too much out there.  The nutrition plan worked well, but still feel that I have not found the exertion-level sweet spot.

Run Goal:  Hang it Together, No Stopping!
2010 result: 1:35:34; 2011 result: 1:28:26, -7:08

Aside from my very first sprint tri (which was incidentally 2 years ago today!), I have never run well off the bike.  My tri run has always been a battle of attrition and sheer will, the results of which have always fallen far short of my open times.  With a concerted effort this year to improve my run efficiency and leg speed, particularly on shorter, more intense distances, I have PB'd all my open distances from 5k through 21k - this has put more pressure to improve my tri run times because I know I can do the pace.  It's just about hanging the run together after time spent on the bike.

My goal pace was a 4:30/km.  This is quite a bit slower than my most recent half-marathon pace of 4:08, but I have never managed to stay at 4:30/km during a half-iron much less anything faster, so I didn't want to overextend my wish list too much.  Coming off Boise I have also not been doing much run work - only 20-30k per week - so felt that 4:30 was a realistic goal.

To my dismay, my left sock was missing from my shoe in T2 so after rifling through all my belongings (and wasting way too much time), the run started on a frustrating downturn.  I would be the one-sock girl today...and the chafing on my left foot started almost immediately.  Despite the discomfort (my foot is a blistery, bleeding mess!), I was able to ease into a 4:30 pace very readily and surprisingly found the pace to be extremely comfortable.  5k passed, 10k passed, then 15k....all very quickly and I felt great.  The last 5k was a bit tough due to some serious headwind, but I knew that the tailwind would be there to carry me home.

Nutrition-wise, I have always suffered stomach upset on the run, so decided to carry with me a small flask of flat cola to get through the first 6-8k.  It was great!!  Not only did I not need to worry about sloshing drinks all over me at the aid stations, but the flat cola totally settled my stomach and was enough to get me through the run without having to rely on the dodgy race-supplied carb drink...which I knew from past experience does not work for me.  I also managed to take care of (ahem) my "business" on the bike so was able to go without my typical potty stop during the run....I realize that this may be TMI for some, but the 2 minutes or more spent dallying at a porta-potty is a huge time waster!

Unlike Boise, not a single person passed me on the run today.  Also unlike Boise, which was a total sufferfest at which I walked almost every aid station, I walked only once for about 15 seconds to take down my gel with some water.  I played my own game, using my rules and my pace.  It was a great feeling to finish strong.      

Ride objective rating:  EUREKA!!!!!
So very happy with the run today - it was consistent and comfortable.  Will I try to go faster?  Yup.  But for today, I'm happy as can be.

Overall 2010 result:  5:02:48.

So apparently sometimes racing can be training.  Despite the very positive end result and finally breaking that magic 5 hour barrier (albeit on a short course), I believe I can do better.....but continuous improvement is really why we do this sport, isn't it?  I learned more today than I do on most training weekends, and now can turn my attention over the next couple of months to applying the lessons learned today. :)  

W35-39 podium!  Yay!!
Thanks and props to the good folks at Speed Theory for their support, for everyone who volunteered and everyone who came out early on their Sunday morning to cheer!  It was a beautiful summer day!