13. July 2015 · Comments Off on From Swamp to Snow · Categories: Run, Trails, Ultramarathons · Tags: , , ,

Laugavegur Ultra is in 5 days!

If you read my very woe-is-me post some 10 days ago, you’ll know I was very unwell following the Leadville Marathon and pre-Iceland ultra.  I’m pleased to say that I am now more or less recovered… and ready to hit the snow.

Yep, snow.

The good people organising the Laugavegur Ultra have been sending us updates on the current snow conditions.  It may be well into July, but when the snow is higher than the buildings, it takes a while to melt.  They tell us that there is still heavy snow for the first 20km of the race.

These photos were taken on the trail just a couple of weeks ago:

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We have been advised to dress accordingly:

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I did mention that we have been doing all our training in flat Florida, right?  From flat swampland to snowy mountains…. gulp!

imageWish us luck!

 

30. June 2015 · Comments Off on In sickness and in health – run that by me again? · Categories: Marathons, Run, Ultramarathons · Tags: , , ,

After the absolutely amazing experience of racing the Leadville Marathon in Colorado…. I got ill.

I was ill on the plane ride back, ill upon arrival in Florida, and even ill when I wrote about the race in my last blog post, not that you would have known it.  I was in denial.  It wasn’t going to last.

It has been 10 days since I have done any running. That has taken some willpower.  To the runners out there, you know how bad that feels. Like all my hard work this past year is drifting away, like I will never run again, like I never knew how to run in the first place.  Worse yet is the fact that the Laugavegur Ultra in Iceland – my next big race – is in 17 days.  And I’m still not healthy yet.  Forget about tapering.  This is just about recuperating and desperately clinging on to any semblance of fitness.  I can’t even pretend I’m laughing about it because I lost my voice 4 days ago and it hasn’t come back yet.

But this is out of my control.  And while the Laugavegur Ultra looks really hard, really tough, and really absolutely astonishingly beautiful – it is not my A-goal race this year.  It’s probably going to hurt a lot more now than it might have.  But it’s one foot in front of the other and hopefully that will get me to the finish line.

So there is my update.  Now I’m going back to bed…..

Sometimes I am in awe of the serendipity of life, of the chains of events that lead to something happening.

For example, the fact that I married my husband Tom in 2010 can be traced directly back to the fact that I was teaching at Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla, Colombia in 2003. If I hadn’t done that, Tom and I never would have met. Life is weird and unexpected.

Tom and I are signed up for the Laugavegur Ultra in Iceland this summer.

"Running" through the wilds of Florida

“Running” through the wilds of Florida

But as the time passes and the July 18 date nears of the ultra, and we train on these flat hot swamp trails – the fear has set in.  How are we going to handle climbing glaciers, mountains, technical terrain, when all our training is through the dead flat boggy Everglades?  Don’t get me wrong – the trail running here isn’t easy (see here!).  Our runs are still unbelievably slow as we slog through yet more wet bush and wrestle with alligators, but nonetheless, it’s flat.

 

 

So discussion ensued how to get some practice runs in with some actual elevation.  And then we saw that Beth from Shut Up + Run blog was suggesting people join her in running the Leadville Marathon and/or Heavy Half. Yes, that’s the same Leadville as the famous Leadville 100 mile race. And as detailed previously – in a matter of 12 hours, we had bought our flights and registered for the race.  Thanks Beth!

Ok, first things first – we got to meet Beth at the start line.  How cool is that?  Turns out she is a real person and there is no panel of 25 writers putting together her hilarious blogs.  Yep, the real deal, and she didn’t freak out that I was some stalker who followed her 2,105 miles across the country (didn’t think of THAT, did you, Beth, eh?).  Here is our celebrity photo shot:

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Karis of See Kay Tri on the left, Beth of Shut up and Run in the middle.

 

Don’t forget to check out those big snow-covered mountains in the background.  Now have a look back at that wild green swampy photo above, and then back at those mountains.  Then take a big gulp and imagine how we were feeling.  Oh, and did I mention that Leadville is actually the highest altitude city in North America, at 3094m (10,200 ft)?  And that the marathon took us up to 4019m (13,185 ft)?  In case we were to forget about the altitude, there was this nice big sign there to remind us:image

Yes.  So, altitude sickness was on all our minds, and shortness of breath was in all our lungs.  But we were excited!

You might have thought that the elevation profile of the race might have given us some warning as to what we had got ourselves into.  In theory. Tom claims the race was as he expected, but the rest of the Flat Florida crew just really had no idea.

So here was our elevation profile, courtesy of Strava, post-race:

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See that tall skinny peak in the middle?  That’s called Mosquito Pass and up until last week, it was entirely covered in snow.  Wonderful race volunteers actually went all the way up there to shovel it.  Yes, they actually shovelled us a path up to Mosquito Peak.  This was the photo that Leadville Race Series posted for us just a couple of days before the event:

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Maybe you’re beginning to understand some of our trepidation in getting ready to run this race!

It was a nice leisurely 8am start (races in Florida start much earlier to beat the heat) and Colorado was having a heat wave.  Although we headed to the start line in jackets, we stuffed them in our packs before the race even started.  How does Leadville start?  Just like the Leadville 100 – with a gunshot!  I jumped out of my skin…but it was ok, we were far enough back from the front that I had time to recover before we shuffled over the start line.

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As you will see from that elevation profile, we headed uphill from the moment the race started. We all ran at first, and then slowly as the lithe Colorado-bred high-altitude gazelles overtook the rest of us, we settled to a fast walk. Oh, how naive we had been. Heading to the airport on Thursday evening, I had announced to the others, “I think we need to be realistic – we will likely be walking some of this race.” Oh hahahahaa. Some? Some!?! No. We had to walk pretty much every uphill, and by uphill, I mean each massive mountain. We even lost the will to jog for the photographers.

But it was beautiful.  The mountains surrounded us, and the higher we went, the more snow appeared, much to our delight (thanks to the wonderful shovelers, though, we never had to run in it!).

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We were excited when we reached the first of the snow at around mile 4. Travis celebrates by throwing a snowball at me.

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Ben, Tom, and Travis climbing to the top of Ball Mountain, our first mountain of the day.

Although the Heavy Half (so called because it’s actually 15.5 miles, rather than the traditional 13.1) started with the Marathon, the split was very early on, so we didn’t see Karis for a good few hours until we met her again as she descended from Mosquito Pass. The rest of us stuck together pretty much until the end. There were 9 aid stations so we were well fuelled for the well over 7 hours it took us to get around this marathon. Watermelon has never tasted so good as it did atop of Ball Mountain.

Ball Mountain was a relatively gentle climb compared to what was waiting for us going up Mosquito Pass. Remember that snow? This is where it got real.

It went up, and up, and up. And it was much steeper than it look in these photos.

 

And it got steeper, and more and more snow appeared….

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And then finally, blissfully, as the winds picked up to 50 mph, we rounded the corner and there was the top of Mosquito Pass at 4019m, or 13,185 feet, with a timekeeper sitting there bundled head to toe in fleece and windproofs.  It was – unsurprisingly – glacially cold. The wind was a furious smack of ice and I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. Tom snapped a quick photo of me before the wind blew me away (that’s no joke) and then we headed back down the mountain.

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I found the climb up Mosquito Pass a real struggle.  In fact, Ben and Travis were about 10 minutes ahead of me by the time I reached the top. I managed to make up the time coming down the mountain to meet up with them all at the aid station at the bottom, thankfully (or else it would have been a lonely rest of the marathon). Travis took a great little video of Ben descending and running into me. I think this gives you a real idea of what the marathon was like, more than any of these still photos:

The race was out and back, so it meant that we then covered the same ground as before – back up and down Ball Mountain once we finally descended Mosquito Pass. The clock was ticking and we were worried about making the cut-off of 8.5 hours, especially since the slog back up Ball Mountain seemed even steeper than before. But we made up the time on the downhills and we even managed some sort of proper run for the last few miles back down, with Ben hitting 7 minute miles (“I got mad,” she said.  “I just wanted to be finished.”).

imageTom parted ways with us at the 21 mile mark due to ongoing issues with his foot, so Ben, Travis and I all finished together and were met at the finish line by Karis sipping a cold beer.  Oh, and her finish?

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OK, so this photo was staged the night before. I wasn’t there when she finished, but judging by how fresh she looked, I expect this was probably accurate.

All in all?

This race was one of the best I’ve ever done, and it totally kicked my ass.  Results-wise, we did terrible! (ok, if you must know – I was 109th out of 155 women!) but we had a blast. We lost around half an hour at aid stations and I am pretty sure I left half of my legs up Mosquito Pass. The altitude crushed us, the footing was technical, the ascents were brutal, the descents required goat legs, the scenery was magnificent, the company was tremendous and we had so much fun.

Bring it on, Iceland. I may well come last – but I’m gonna love it.

[Update:  Karis has now written her own race report, a most excellent one – you can read it here.]

So the London Marathon is over.  Last month’s news. It was an obsessive focal point for months and then it didn’t go as planned.  So what happens next?

FUN STUFF.

When a road race doesn’t quite work out after all that effort and work, I need to stop and think:

  • Why do I run? because I love it
  • What do I love most?  being outside. Exploring.  TRAIL RUNNING!

As I had mentioned previously, Tom and I are running the Laugevegur Ultra Marathon in Iceland in July.  It looks awesome, in the true sense of the word.  Mountains, glaciers, valleys, fording rivers, snow and ice in July – seriously breathtakingly beautiful.  The race is 55km long (34.18 miles) and covers around 2000m (6500 feet) of climbing.

The challenge is: how do we train for that here in flat hot Florida?

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The elevation profile from one of my recent long runs.

Answer:  enter another mountain race as a warm up!

We’ve been doing a lot of trail running with our friends Ben and Travis lately (they are also training for a truly epic race, the GoreTex Trans-Alpine Run, 8 days of running across the Alps through 4 countries!), and I’ve been loving it.  But there is a distinct lack of hills here and it has been a cause of concern to us all.

We were heading home from our club run the other day, which consisted of hill repeats in Okeeheelee Park – 10 times up and down the one 23m hill, and we were thinking what more can we do?  Ben’s training plan says to find a hill that takes 20 minutes to run up and down – these hill repeats were taking us 40 seconds. Then I happened to flick through Instagram and saw that one of my favourite running bloggers, Shut Up + Run, had just posted about doing a hilly mountain race in Colorado in June.  I was intrigued.

I’ve certainly been spontaneous before (flying to the Arctic Circle on standby on a whim in the middle of winter and landing there at midnight with nowhere to stay comes to mind, back in my youth…), but this still ranks up there.  By lunch time the following day the four of us had registered for the Leadville Trail Marathon, bought our plane tickets, arranged hotel rooms and a rental car. I’m still a bit in shock, and slightly terrified, but 100% excited.  Who wants to join us?

The race starts and finishes in town, with most of the race up in the mountains.

I CAN’T WAIT!!!

And in the meantime, we have been doing long runs out in the bush/jungle/scrub – whatever you want to call it. There is a great trail called the Ocean to Lake Trail (guess where it goes?).  In total it covers 62 miles. We have done roughly half of it so far.

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Don’t be fooled by that simple looking line.  Most of that trail is as wild as can be and it is very slow going despite flat terrain.  And by slow, I mean turtle slow, snail slow, molasses slow.  But it’s really fun and a great break from all the pavement pounding I was doing up until the marathon.  And it’s very pretty in a wild sort of way.

Animal tally so far:

  • 6 manatees
  • 3 alligators
  • 1 wild boar
  • maybe a dozen deer
  • 1 snake
  • many a squirrel
  • even more birds

Photo time:

1)  Riverbend to Hobe Sound (the ocean!) – 16.5 miles, took 3:15 total time!

We swam in the ocean fully clothed at the end of the run.  Can’t tell you how amazing it felt to rinse off the grime.

2)  Hungryland to Riverbend – 17 miles, took around 3:40!

3)  We’ve also been running at Apoxee Wilderness Trail, which is quite a bit easier going and good for ‘gator spotting:

Wishing you all happy trails!

*NB – if you subscribe to this blog via email, you may not be able to see the photos in galleries above – sorry about that.  You need to open the blog in your browser and then you’ll see these stunning, award-winning images of nature and incredible athleticism. Wait, maybe better you don’t look….

11. May 2015 · Comments Off on London Marathon 2015: #thanksPaula #thankskathrine · Categories: Marathons, Race Report · Tags: , ,

Did you know that up until the first woman officially ran a marathon in 1967, it was believed that – point blank – no woman could run a marathon? That all that running might damage their reproductive organs?  That those organs might even just end up falling out, mid run?

In 1967, Kathrine Switzer entered the Boston Marathon as K.V. Switzer, the first woman to enter any marathon race.  She had trained for it and she was ready.  But just 4 miles into the 26.2, she was attacked by a race official trying to pull her off course:

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Kathrine managed to keep running and finished the marathon, despite shouts, jeers, and the press pestering her as she ran.  She writes today on her website, reflecting on the moments following the attack:

“…how scared I felt, as well as deeply humiliated, and for just a tiny moment, I wondered if I should step off the course. I did not want to mess up this prestigious race. But the thought was only a flicker. I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I’d never run Boston.”

I ran the 2015 London Marathon thanks to Kathrine, and others like her.  My race didn’t go to plan.  In fact, it was one of the most disheartening races I’ve ever run, where nothing seemed to go quite right.  But nobody tried to pull me off course, and the only voice screaming at me to stop running was the one inside my head.

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The start of this year’s London Marathon

Not only did I get to run the London Marathon again this year, but I had the enormous privilege of running it with Paula Radcliffe – world record holder of both the marathon and 10K (2:15:25 and 30:21), and six time world champion.  Paula is nothing short of phenomenal.  This year she ran London as her last hurrah, a goodbye to racing, and she ran it with the mere mortals rather than starting with the elites.  She has retired after so many years of willing her injured foot to cooperate, but she still managed to knock out 2:36:55 and (small wonder) placed 1st woman overall outside of the elites.  Is it worth mentioning that this was the slowest marathon she has ever run?

London Marathon Paula 2

Nobody says that women can’t run marathons anymore, and Paula only ran faster after going through pregnancy and giving birth to her children.  I say:  thank you, Kathrine.  Thank you, Paula.  You’ve shown us that ThisGirlCan.

37,584 people crossed the finish line at the London Marathon this year (if you’re interested, 38% women, 62% men) – and that doesn’t count those who started the race but didn’t finish.  I finished in 3:21:50, which was a disappointment, although still a PB.  I boiled myself over without realising it, running sub 7 minute miles early on in the game when I was meant to be doing 7:25 (let’s forget about Paula’s 5:10 min/mile here, ok?) and the rest of the run was pure drudgery, dragging myself to the finish line. It was cold, it was damp, I ran a stupid race, but – there is always next year.

London Marathon 2015 2

Sporting a 5Q tattoo, seeking gender equality in Ironman triathlon

It’s tough to train for months and then for things to go wrong.  Especially when it’s your own fault.  Last year I ran perfect splits, this year I got cocky and paid for it (from the 10 mile mark onwards!). I didn’t run the race that I wanted to run, but hey, I was only 502 spots behind Paula… on her worst day.  And on Paula’s worst day, she wore sunglasses

“to keep a lid on my emotions and they definitely hid some tears along the way.  Down the last mile I thought ‘I don’t care about the time’, I just wanted to thank as many people as I could.  I knew it would be emotional and it was so emotional. I nearly lost it at Birdcage Walk but the crowds bowled me over, I wanted it to last forever. It was so special, I’m really going to miss it. (BBC)

Despite what I was saying to myself as I ran down Birdcage Walk some 45 minutes behind Paula, this won’t be my last marathon, so I can still run the race I want to run, that I know I can run, next time.  I’m not retiring yet.

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#thankspaula #thankskathrine #thisgirlcan (and thank you also Jacob Howe of London Heathside for helping me prepare for the marathon!)

I didn’t intend to race 3 out of 4 weekends in March – it just ended up happening.

First though, let me be a proud wife and put the sportlight back on Tom!  Tom raced the HITS Ocala Half Ironman last weekend.

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Start of the race – photo courtesy of @HITSTriSeries

Tom has been recovering from plantar fasciitis since July last year and has only been back running for about a month after 7 months of no running at all.  This was a training race for Ironman so he planned to keep his heart rate relatively low and not push too hard.  He still had a stellar race, finishing 8th overall in 4:44 and was 3rd off the 56 mile bike in 2:24.

This was exceptionally good considering that he slept in the car the night before – and it was only 6 C (42 F), and no sleeping bag either:

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I was a bit sad to miss out on the half Ironman (HITS put on a great race! See my Naples report for more), but it didn’t fit in with my current marathon training (in other words, minimal cycling or swimming).  BUT, I ended up racing that weekend too.  As mentioned about a gazillion times already, I’m following Coach Jacob’s plan for London Heathside for the London Marathon, and that Sunday’s long run included racing the South of England Road Relays in Milton Keynes before continuing on for a total mileage of 16-20 miles.

I mentioned this in passing to Ben during the previous week’s long run, and she very astutely noted that I might be able to find a local race to simulate Jacob’s plan.  The SEAA relay for women is 5 km and guess what, a quick google identified the Florida Brain Cancer 5K race to be held that Sunday in Lake Worth.  Credit cards out, and Ben and I were entered.

It was fantastic.

We met a bit earlier and did a nice and easy 5km warm up, then squeezed into the front of the crowd at the start, ready to go.  And we were off!

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Photo courtesy of Alfred Clayton Photography

I hadn’t run a 5K race in nearly a year and I’ve been feeling slower on the track this year than last year, so I didn’t know what to expect.  But having spoken with some of the amazing runners with the Wellington Runners’ Club (Steve Monks – 14:30 5K?!), I decided to aim high and see what happened.  If I bonked, I bonked – it didn’t matter.

What happened was – it went great.  I felt strong from start to finish, and I ran a negative split.  I came in 1st woman and 9th overall in 19:30.1, a very happy result! (and a new PB.)

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Photo courtesy of Alfred Clayton Photography

Ben was right behind me too, finishing 2nd woman!  However, we missed the awards ceremony because we went off to run another 10 miles for a total of 16 miles on a beautiful day!

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Thanks Coach Jacob for suggesting a brilliant way to get some faster miles in, and thanks Ben for helping me stick to the training plan on the other side of the Atlantic!

Apart from being a great race, the Florida Brain Cancer 5K also raised $194,600.25 for Brain Cancer research!  Special thanks to Alfred Clayton Photography for the complimentary race photos – greatly appreciated!

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Photo courtesy of Alfred Clayton Photography

 

What do you do with your race medals? All ours go on the stair bannister!

Weekly Update

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 15.45.573 weeks until London Marathon! Yesterday’s 22 miler was pretty brutal, but thankfully Tom paced me for the middle 10 miles at marathon pace.

 

25. March 2015 · Comments Off on London Beckons · Categories: Marathons, Weekly Roundup · Tags: ,

The London Marathon is now just a month away, or another way to look at it is 4 or so weeks left of training. April 26!

Crossing Tower Bridge – and passing my old office

I ran London last year, and it was every bit as fabulous as everyone says.  I’d lived in the city for over a decade but it was my first time in the marathon and I couldn’t believe the crowd support, the organisation, the water stations – everything was done pretty much as perfectly as possible considering there were some 36,000 runners.

London Marathon 2014Last year’s race went pretty much as perfectly for me as a race can go.  The results page shows all sorts of cool statistics that allow you to find out how every single runner is, in some way, amazing, and these were my two favourites from the page:

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 17.51.51Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 17.49.28I kept it pretty steady throughout the race, as the first graph shows, and the second graphic shows what good pacing does for you in the final leg of the marathon. (See here for more stats and fun graphics.)

I would be thrilled if I could run as steady a race this year – and perhaps just a wee bit faster too….  well, it never hurts to try! But was last year too perfect to match again?

And now we are some 4 weeks away.  The time has come around again fast.  Training, for the most part, has been going well.  Last year, I was training for Ironman Lanzarote and the London Marathon was my “B” race a few weeks before (I had a Good for Age spot that I didn’t want to miss out on).  So my only concessions to the marathon training were weekly track sessions and a Sunday long run.  Otherwise I focused purely on the Ironman training.

This year, while not being completely strict about it, I have been following the London Heathside plan so kindly provided by Coach Jacob, and I’ve been doing my best to fit in as many of the tempo runs and marathon pace runs as I can (ow ow ow!).  I’m hoping that will make a difference, because in general, if anything, I feel like I am running slower than ever due to the Florida heat and humidity.

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Club runners and vampires gather before 6am for the time honoured tradition of the Sunday Long Run

This past Sunday I survived the longest run on the schedule, just over 24 miles (or just under 39 km). Thankfully, I ran most of it with the Wellington Runners’ Club, and with my friend Ben step-by-step for 20 miles.  I will admit I was dreading the run – it loomed large on my training plan – but like many of these runs, especially group ones, they are often more enjoyable/easier than you think they will be.  I felt strong from start to finish and we kept a decent pace.  Now we just need to run the race 1 min/mile faster…..

In general, I am realising that to do any sort of faster running at this time of year, I need to do it before the sun comes up.  I say that because I tried to do a marathon pace run on Thursday in the heat of the day and it could very easily be classified under One of the Worst Experiences of My Life. Having learned my lesson the hard way, here is a very nice photo of me from my next run, long before there was any hint of sunlight:

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Me on the left. Palm tree on the right. Or is it abstract art?

Did I mention there are no streetlights where I live?  And that I have terrible night vision? (See here for another look at the deep depths of darkness.)

Weekly Update

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This upcoming weekend will bring more pain for both Tom and me.  Tom is doing the HITS Ocala Half Ironman (you may recall that we both did HITS Naples and we thought HITS put on a great race) and I’ve just signed up to do a 5K race in Lake Worth as part of my Sunday long run.

Do you prefer to run in heat or cold? I like cold running best, but heat for cycling.

 

After my last post about giving myself a bit of a break, I’ve had two weekends of racing – fun and exciting!

The first race was a guaranteed PB (or PR in American speak), because it was a 1 mile relay race in Albacoa, FL in support of a children’s charity, Bella’s Angels – and I’d never raced a mile.  I’ve never raced shorter than 5k before so I went into it really having no idea of pacing. I had never done a relay, either.  Our team was only assembled the day before but we managed to find 4 strong women and we had a blast.

I ran the first mile.  Given that it was 4 x 1 mile, I had expected perhaps a straight out-and-back course – silly me!  No, it was a fun crazy course that included running around a baseball stadium and up the bleachers – yes, you read that correctly, we had to run up, and then down, STAIRS in our 1 mile race.  It deserves a photo:

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I ran my mile in 5:43.8, and as a team we ran the 4 miles in 24:46.2 and were the first placed all-females team.  It was raining all morning which helped keep it cool, and Nina, Mary Sarah and I enjoyed a sopping wet 7km “cool down” (more like “swim down”) afterwards in the rain.  April headed off for the treadmill instead; fair enough considering she was running the New York City Half Marathon the following weekend!

This past weekend Tom and I ran the Palm Beach Road Runners‘ Shamrock 10 Mile Run.  Tom has been coming back from a running injury and is still taking it easy, so he agreed to pace me for the race – whoohoo!

[Tom last paced me in the Toronto Women’s Half Marathon in 2013.  Yes, you read that right.  Women’s.  We were flying in from London for a wedding and the race was the same weekend; I wanted to do it. I emailed the race organisers to ask if men were permitted too, since I couldn’t find anything on the website to the contrary.  They replied saying that Tom was very welcome to run the race.  Race day:  1000 women, 4 men.  A huge bonus because Tom ended up staying with me and pacing me to a big PB at the time.]

The course was 10 miles around Lake Osborne in Lake Worth, FL (yes, that geography confuses me too.  A lake in a lake?).  Around 400 runners did the 10 miles, and another 600 ran the 5k race, meaning a whole lot of mock-Irish green, including some fabulous fancy dress:

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This race was a big test for me in terms of seeing how training is going and to determine what pace I should be looking to do in the London Marathon next month.  My goal was to run 6:50-7:00 min/mile (or 4:15-4:20 min/km).  It didn’t quite happen.  It was 30 degrees out, bright sunshine, and whether that’s the reason or whether I’m just not strong enough yet, I ended up with an average pace of 7:04 min/mile (or 4:22 min/km).  But I gave it my all (as my heart rate shows, and Tom can attest to my extreme breathing towards the end), so I was happy with my efforts.  You can only do what you can do!

150314 Tom Shamrock 10 Mile Race

Tom powers it home!

I finished in 1:10:41 and was 2nd woman overall, 1st in my age group, and 18th out of everyone.  The first lady and I played a good game of chase and I did catch her about 2 miles out, but she had a whole lot more left in the tank than I did in the last mile and she caught me again and finished 24 seconds ahead of me.  (As a funny coincidence, when I shook her hand at the end of the race, she ended up being English, from Manchester). All in all, a good result for me and a fun day out – once I’d forgotten the pain of those 10 miles.

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And post race?

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Refreshing!!!

 

These weeks in training:

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Not much running last week, but the Monday night group ride pretty much killed me (very windy, full of sprints, and we were 25 men and just me as the lone woman) and then it was a bit of a mini-taper for the 10 mile race. The race also meant that I got to skip my usual long run, hurrah!  Not that I don’t enjoy long runs – I do – but it’s always nice to have a bit of a change.

Doggy news (stop reading if this ain’t your thing)

1.  We took Haile to the beach again, where he learned that he really enjoys water.

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2.  I mean, he really enjoys water.

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3.  And he definitely enjoys the after effects:

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What’s your favourite race distance? I like ultra marathons the best!

 

16. February 2015 · Comments Off on Training with a World Champion: Tri Camp with Leanda Cave! · Categories: embrace the bike, Run, Swim, Triathlon · Tags: , ,

Back in November when I competed in Miami Man Half Ironman, Tom and I met 4 x World Champion Leanda Cave and heard that she was holding her first triathlon training camp in February.  We held a quick conference over our pre-race pasta binge at the Olive Garden and decided that this was an opportunity to learn from the best and we couldn’t miss it.

It was this past weekend in Port Saint Lucy, Florida, and it was absolutely fantastic.  Amazing.  A brilliant weekend – fun, enjoyable, a nice small group and we learned so much.

It was three days of sport, with swim/bike/run each day, plus extra sessions like strength & conditioning, nutrition talks, and swim video analysis. Leanda’s sister Mel Cave (also a prolific competitive endurance swimmer) and USAT coach Kris Swarthout were working with Leanda which meant that we had continuous feedback in all disciplines.

I can’t possibly tell you everything we did, but I’ll break it down to the key things Tom and I took away from the weekend.

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With Leanda before our brick ride

SWIM

We had a video analysis in the pool, drills sessions and an open water swim.

Leanda getting ready to spy on us from underwater!

Leanda getting ready to spy on us from underwater!

Tom and I had a swim video analysis done back in December 2013 so it was really interesting to see what we had managed to correct since then and where we still needed to improve.  If you’ve never had yourself videoed, I can’t recommend it enough.  You really have no idea what you are doing right and wrong in the water until you can see yourself – you will be surprised!

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Leanda and Mel teaching. Tom, Sam and me in the water.

If you care to watch our videos, here they are.  First, my video:

With additional commentary here.

And Tom’s video:

With additional commentary here.

I learned that my body balance and roll and positioning are good, but that I am lacking in power because I have no catch and am failing to lead with my elbows (or EVF for the technical term – “early vertical forearm”).  I now have very specific drills to knock this on the head, and hopefully after that I should have much more power (= speed!).  I’m hoping that if I can get this sorted out, maybe a sub-1 hour Ironman swim could be possible.

Technique is one thing, but open water swimming is another, so we had a session where we practiced sighting, turning around buoys, and beach starts and exits.  All things we never practice but have to do every single triathlon!  I had never realised there was special technique to swim over top of the masses at the swim turns (involving a single backstroke roll-over) and I can’t say that I’ve ever raced into the water properly before.

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Leanda and Mel demonstrate proper EVF

The Blue Seventy crowd: me, Leanda, Ken, Tom, and Adam!

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Leanda also told us she would like to see us swimming 5 times a week.  Eep – some room for improvement there!

wetsuits2BIKE

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The bike is my weakest of the three disciplines and Tom’s strongest.  We had three bike sessions, the first focusing on bike skills, the second a group brick ride along the coast, and the third a time trial session.

We worked on cornering, pacelines, and transition skills (I’ll look at the transition work separately).  The bike ride along the coast was fantastic – it’s not every day you get to draft off a world champion!

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Ready to ride!

The most exciting photo of the whole weekend:

Leanda and I leading the pack

Leanda and I leading the ride

My cornering skills definitely improved – hurrah!

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Tom’s cornering didn’t really need much work…

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While we were cycling, Leanda’s right-hand man Lou Cantin was busy snapping photos of us all, which he sent to us later – how cool is that?

 

TRANSITIONS

Again, like some of the open water swimming skills we did – transitions happen every race, yet how often do we practice the actual skills?  I do brick runs but it never occurred to me that I might be able to bring it to the next level.

Leanda showed us how she jumps on the bike in transition:

While I wasn’t quite ready to try this, Tom was, with great success!  For me it was a major coup to learn to get my shoes on whilst cycling off:

Tom also mastered the moving dismount:

RUN

The run sessions were broken into a drills & technique session, a brick run, and a track session.  Leanda is an advocate of the Pose method, where you lean slightly forward and “catch’ yourself before you fall by placing your foot underneath you, with a high cadence.

We also practiced injury-prevention drills, some familiar, some not.

On Saturday we did a brick session – 36 mile ride along the beach followed by a 30 minute run.  We were to do 5 min easy, followed by intervals of 90 seconds hard, 3 min easy.  I ran with Leanda’s training partner Guido and the “easy” sections were definitely using that term loosely!  We ran just over 4 miles.

Post-brick smiles with Sam and Jen!

Post-brick smiles with Sam and Jen!

Sunday saw us at the track, which I love/hate (I love it because it makes you fast; I hate it because it hurts so much!).  I do track every week so it’s a familiar pain, but it was a different sort of workout from what I’m used to:

4*(100m hard, 100m jog); 4*(400m hard, 200m jog); 2*(800m hard, 400m jog); 2*(400m hard, 200m jog)

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Giving the boys a run for their money!

Leanda and Chris recommended doing track workouts at 8 weeks out to the Ironman to sharpen up speed.

STRENGTH & CONDITIONING

We all know we should do it, but how often do we do it?  I am going to start…this time I mean it!  I’ve just invested in some swim cords and a bosu ball.

THE REST

We spent a fair bit of time just listening and learning – both during the training sessions and in the education sessions:

Group meals helped us get to know each other while wearing a bit more clothing, and at the very end Leanda drew names out of a hat (or energy drink tin, rather) to win prizes kindly donated by her sponsors. Tom and I won matching Santini trisuits!  Thank you Santini!

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Such a small group meant that we got plenty of coaching attention

And a final picture of the great coaches and organisers of the camp:

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Leanda, Kris, Lou, Guido, Mel

All in all?

It was really remarkable to be learning from a world champion. That’s not something you can replicate. Having such high level coaching from the whole team and Leanda as real inspiration has given new life to both Tom’s and my training.

I now know exactly what drills will correct my swim technique and improve my speed.  The bike skills we learned will make a tangible difference to my times, and the strength training will improve my run.  I’ve come out of the camp knowing exactly what I need to work on to make me faster and stronger.  Above all for me, though, was getting the opportunity to work one-on-one with Leanda.  As a woman in triathlon – still a minority – it was incredible to be working alongside one of the best female athletes in the world.

Have any questions about the camp?  Let me know!

Back in October, I went through some metabolic testing at Sportstest in London.  It was truly eye opening.

I had wanted to get myself tested because I was trying to figure out why I was such a crappy cyclist.  Yes, that’s the truth of it.  I was running and swimming generally well, but my cycling consistently never matched the other two.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I was putting in the time – I did Sufferfest sessions 3-4 times a week, I did long hours on the bike, including a number of Century rides, and I rode rain or shine, snow or ice.

Palace 2 Palace, 144 km cycle:  the only sportive where I finished ahead of the others. Because they all got lost… and I didn’t. L-R: Tom, me, Jojo, Dalia

And yet I sucked on the bike.  It was exhausting and disheartening.  Why was I always so slow?  Finally, metabolic testing with Dr Garry Palmer would reveal the truth.

The Test

Pre-testing, Garry discussed my training regime with me, my bike times vs my run times, and surmised that it was likely because I was training too hard on the bike.  Pushing too hard all the time, never letting up, always going for it, exhausting me.  Could that be it?  The testing would tell.

I won’t go into great detail about metabolic testing, but you can hear more about it from Garry himself here or read my friend Karis’s recent post on the subject. Essentially, Garry was monitoring my heart rate, my oxygen uptake and my CO2 production, first on the bike, the on the run.

VO2 max

Testing time!

I was in for a shock.

It was my “off-season”, I’d just had several weeks off after an intensive year of racing, and yet my bike results were good.  Very good.  My VO2 max was in the top-trained athlete range (61.19), and my power to weight ratio was very high (4.68).  What it boiled down to:  I wasn’t trying nearly hard enough on the bike.

It was all mental.

All the times I’d struggled in the sportives to keep up, all the times I’d been dropped by my friends – it was all because I wasn’t trying hard enough.

I generally pride myself on giving 110% effort, so this really was a surprise.  I think all the years of bike commuting just meant that I didn’t know how to suffer on the bike.  I had been coasting along in the “recovery” heart rate zone (or Zone 1) the entire time. I’d learned how to push hard on the run, but not on the bike.

We then moved on to testing my run:

The run brought fewer surprises, but again Garry identified my training zones.  We did establish that my running was ahead of my cycling – but not by that much.  It also showed that I was doing my “steady” runs far too easy.

The graphs

The various tests resulted in a number of complex graphs and numbers spewing out, one example here:

Test results

Test results

These graphs show the points at which you stop burning fat and only burn carbohydrates.  As an endurance athlete, the longer you can burn fat, the longer you can keep going.  Tom and I are both believers in fat-fuelled sessions (long and slow without taking on extra fuel so your body learns to burn fat rather than “hitting the wall”, which is what happens when you are burning carbs only and your body runs out of supplies).  Turns out pretty much all my cycling had been in the fat burning zone only.  For endurance triathlon, you ideally want to be in Zone 2 – where you burn both fat and carbohydrates.

The consequences

No more excuses!

If there is one thing I’ve learned doing endurance sports over the last few years, it’s is that the mental is more important than the physical, by far. This testing really brought that home.

Since the assessment with Garry, my cycling has improved 100%.  Don’t get me wrong – I still have a long way to go, but the improvement has been palpable.  I trust the numbers he has given me and I’ve finally learned to push hard on the bike.  My Half Ironman time has dropped nearly an hour (5:58 in Norway in 2013 to 5:01 in Naples in Jan 2015), with my bike split going from 3:22 to 2:42, 40 minutes! (granted, Norway was hilly, and Naples was flat)!

It’s true that it’s pancake flat here, unlike hilly England.  So perhaps I can’t put everything down to trying harder, but I’m definitely pushing more than I ever have before, and it feels good.

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All in all, I would highly recommend getting yourself tested if you haven’t done it already.  And I am continuously amazed at how much of this sport is mental, not physical.

Have you ever has a metabolic assessment?  Did it help you?