Monday, March 26, 2012

Mooloolaba World Cup

Mooloolaba always seems to be my "come-back" race. Last year it marked my return to racing after a year and a half hiatus following my bike accident, and this year, although I've raced a few smaller events, this was my first World Cup/World Championship race since last April. So, by default, this event has become a bit special to me!

We flew to Australia a few days before the race, settling into our training base in Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast, about 30 minutes up the road from Mooloolaba. Noosa will be our base for the next two weeks between the races and from what I've seen already, I think it is going to be just fine! You would realize how much of an understatement this is if you could hear my Skype calls with Adam: "oh my gosh, I LOVE running in the National Park! It's like a jungle! I saw kookaburras! We swim in a gorgeous 50m outdoor pool! Ohhhh, the sunsets! It's sunny and WARM!" You get the gist of it.... I will survive here!

My prep leading into this race was different than anything I have ever done, but it was a necessary adjustment. I started to struggle with fatigue during the late stages of the Clermont camp. I seemed to creep closer and closer to the "overtraining" experiences I had last year and with every intense session I would do, I would need quite a lot of recovery. It seemed to catch up with me quickly and by the time I got back to Victoria, it was clear that my body needed us to take a step back. So, I went back to aerobic training with lots of strength (hills!) on the bike and run. Apart from the odd pick-up, I was in base mode with a higher volume. I was concerned at first that this wasn't the correct prep for a World Cup race, but as I settled into routine, got a spring back in my step, was back to my giggly-self, and starting sleeping better, I knew it was the right call. Even leading into the race last week, I kept things low-intensity and Joel and I closely monitored my daily energy levels before we put me into a session. I don't remember my body ever being this sensitive with regards to intensity but I think after experiencing "burnout" or being close to it last summer, my system is not quite as robust as it used to be. So, we've had to be creative and come up with a new plan to get me firing on all cylinders for race day.

It seemed as though our plan worked out and I had built up enough "reserves" to allow me to put out a solid effort. By the time race day rolled around, I was chomping at the bit to get out there and truly looking forward to the race environment as I had done more than enough solo base training. I had a breakthrough swim, was 12th out of the water, narrowly missing the breakaway swim pack by less than 10 seconds. I was on the tail end of the group heading into shore but when I looked up one final time I could see everyone was already on the beach running. I must have missed a wave that the group had caught and when I got to transition, the final girl in that group was mounting her bike and heading off. Once on my bike, I felt strong and put my head down to catch those up ahead. It was clear that I wasn't going to do that on my own, and despite the help of a couple others, we were losing time. Within a couple laps my pack had grown to about 20 women and we were able to hold the gap to the lead pack at about 1:30. It wasn't an ideal situation for running up to a top finish, but this is one of the toughest run courses so I knew there would be some fading during the last half. My legs were not turning over too quickly at the start of the run, but once we got on the hills I felt strong and found my rhythm. I ended up finishing in 12th. I was pleased with this result, especially being able to see my swim-bike improvements, but also experience another 60+ women race before Sydney WCS in a few weeks time. I also got a few more Olympic ranking points, slowly inching me towards earning the 2nd country spot for Canada.

Thanks everyone for the nice messages and for those cheering on the sidelines! I love this sport and racing hard, but it wouldn't be quite the same without having others to share it with :)

More from Australia soon!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Barbados ITU

Racing in Barbados wasn't in my original race plan for this year, but Joel and I decided about two weeks ago that it wouldn't be a bad idea. Because of my sub-par result in La Paz last month I hadn't earned enough ITU points to ensure a start at the Mooloolaba World Cup and Sydney World Series event, so if I wasn't able to get a start there then this Olympic campaign would pretty much be over before it even began. Also, racing again would give me an opportunity to show myself where my fitness truly is, as my confidence had wavered a bit since La Paz, and this could be a good boost going into the next training block. Plus, Barbados was only a half day's travel from our base in Florida, so it was a fairly easy decision.

But, putting Olympic plans and race schedules aside, I have been dying to go to the Caribbean for as long as I can remember! When I was young I would study travel brochures for hours and even went through a phase where I wanted to be a travel agent. I figured that if I couldn't travel to these gorgeous places, I might as well help others plan their adventures! I remember being quite interested in St. Lucia and Turks and Caicos, and my fascination was 100% related to the colour of the water. The turquoise ocean was like nothing I had ever seen! So, when Barbados became a possibility, you can imagine my excitement to fulfill this childhood dream.

And, the country didn't disappoint. Right from the get-go, we were treated to the gracious Barbadian hospitality. My teammates, Kerry Lang, Kirsten Sweetland and I were spoiled by our homestay, the lovely Pile family, at the Brighton Plantation, the oldest home in Barbados! It was in the middle of the island, surrounded by lush plantations and historic buildings. It is still very much a working farm and there is a farmer's market on the property every Saturday morning. We were treated to farm-fresh omelettes and cappuccinos on our first morning there as we browsed the stalls full of fruits, veggies, and handicrafts. Their house was built in 1657 and was incredibly well-preserved and well, very grand. I definitely felt like a royal during my stay there and I'm pretty sure my bedroom was close to the size of our entire apartment back home. It was one of the most unusual yet incredible pre-race experiences I've ever had. The family owned 5 very large dogs and while I don't usually get too excited over bigger dogs (standard poodles aside), this pack was full of characters! There were 3 weimaraners and 2 pitt-bull-great dane-bull mastiff crosses. That is A LOT of dog and it wasn't unusual to have all five of them charge towards me to say hello in the morning. 500 + lbs of canine was a bit overwhelming but all part of the experience! I even had the pack join me for my early morning pre-race jog through the plantation. That set the tone for a very fun day.

The race was located at Brighton Beach and when we went there for a swim the day before, I was speechless. IT was even MORE stunning than I had anticipated.... and usually when you build something up for decades it doesn't meet your expectations, but somehow this exceeded mine. The water was brilliant blue, clear, warm and calm. I couldn't wait for the race.

The women started a couple hours after the men, at 9:30am. I was ranked third so was able to select a spot close to the end of the pontoon. I had a clean start and could see I was slightly ahead of most of the field within the first few strokes. I could see Kerry (super swimmer) ahead and the British athlete, Vanessa Raw catching onto her feet. I was able to move over in time to catch on to their feet and hung on for the rest of the swim. I exited the water in third place, right with Kerry and Vanessa and did a small happy dance in my mind as I finally had the swim I knew I was capable of. There wasn't much time to celebrate as I had to hustle to get on the bike. I knew we had a small gap to the rest of the field behind us so once we were on the bike, we were organized right away and pulling away from the others. Kirsten had an incredible start of the bike, steamrolling through the pack behind, riding herself right up to us. We had a very strong and motivated pack, working well together. Before we knew it, we had over a minute gap to the others and by the end of the 20km, the lead was up to 1:40. It was getting HOT at this point and I think we were all beginning to feel the effort from the bike. I really wasn't sure how I was going to run after that effort but I took it out hard, was able to run right up to the front and just kept going. I didn't feel stellar but I'm not sure that's really possible in those conditions. It was just such a relief to be able to push hard again and RACE. I know I said this before, but I really didn't know if I "still had it" after everything I've been through. This wasn't the best race I've ever had by any means, but it was a stepping stone in the right direction. There's still a lot of work to do before the next series of races, but I'm ready for it. Racing here was the right decision on many levels so I am thankful I was open to the last-minute decision to race.

And, it was a GREAT day for our squad with Kirsten finishing in 3rd (a nice comeback for her too!) and Kerry in 4th. I think we made coach Joel proud :)

Unfortunately I didn't get to hang about and tour the island. After chugging all the water I could stomach, I finally got through drug-testing, packed my bike, and flew to the airport. I was sad to miss spending some relaxed time with our homestays and on the beach, but I was keen to get back to Clermont and settled for the remainder of our camp. You can bet though that I was glued to the airplane window as we took-off and already making future plans for a return trip with Adam. After reading through a travel brochure I realized that I did zero things on the "top 25 must see/do list" for Barbados. ZERO. My childhood self would have been very disappointed in me!

We're back at camp now for a few more weeks. The next race, the Clermont ITU sprint is on March 3rd and is literally right down the road from our house. It doesn't get more straight-forward than that!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Fresh Start

I seem to have experienced a lot these past two years from marriage, to injuries, crashes, sickness, surgery, frustrations, comebacks, and everything in between.

I haven’t written a blog since this past summer. I was really struggling at the time, and so worried for my health and my future in the sport that I couldn’t bring myself to write anything for the longest time. Despite a strong start to the 2011 season with my 9th and 10th places at Mooloolaba and Sydney after a year and a half away from racing, I wasn’t able to continue forging ahead with the rest of the WCS season. The fatigue seemed to creep up on me in March and April, but it wasn’t until the end of May that it was really forcing me to slow down. Unfortunately at that point my body had had enough and even with a week or two of full recovery, I seemed to fall deeper into a world of fatigue. I was away at Switzerland with my squad at the time and beginning to worry about my health. While everyone was peaking for the World Series races I was sleeping 15 hours a day, having night sweats, losing handfuls of hair, gaining weight, and overall struggling to function. My health seemed to take a sudden nosedive from being in top form to being a complete physical (and eventually emotional) wreck over a period of a couple of weeks. I didn’t want to completely pull the plug on the season as I was desperate to hold on to whatever fitness I had, hoping that I might come out of my hole before the next races. But as the season wore on, I could feel my fitness dwindling. I soon realized that hoping to be well enough to race again that year was beginning to look like a pipe dream. By September I was even wondering if I would ever be well enough to train again. Eventually I began to notice my energy returning, slowly, but my confidence in my ability was completely shattered. I was so far from training at a high performance level. I was still struggling to run for 20 minutes without my heart rate sky rocketing or feeling all sorts of “nigglies.” Nothing made sense to me and I was ready to throw in the towel thinking this was really the end. Thankfully I had people pulling for me and I really don’t think I’d be where I am right now if it weren’t for them refusing to give up on me. I know Adam was just as confused as I was, but he never let me believe that this was the end for me. He was certain I would eventually bounce back.

And I eventually did bounce back by the time Fall rolled around. I had a lot of time on my hands to think about my future in the sport and I knew that if I were to continue pushing forward to the 2012 Olympics, I needed to create a low-stress environment. It was a very difficult decision, but I decided not to return to my training squad and coach Darren, but to stay closer to my family and support network. I owe Darren a lot of credit for bringing me “back from the dead” after my bike crash, to top-10 in the world in a short period of time. I learned a heck of a lot from him and his fantastic squad so it was a tough decision to make. It turned out that Joel Filliol was returning to Victoria and was starting up a squad so that helped solidify my decision. I worked with Joel at the end of 2008 until early 2009 before he left to coach the British Team. I had one of my best seasons in 2009 and I know the training I did with Joel had set me up well. Also, having worked with Joel before allowed for a smooth transition so right from our first meeting, we were able to set up a plan and get right to work.

Apart from a few bumps along the way, I’ve been able to consistently build up my fitness over the past three months. I truly started from “ground zero” in October. It was shocking how much fitness I had lost, but as I began to see the training increase and my body responding well, I was one happy girl. Joel has built up a slow but steady progression and by the time mid-November rolled around, I was doing intervals and even seeing little blips of my “old self”. This brought back a little bit of confidence and eventually the belief that I did in fact have a shot at qualifying for my second Olympics.

One of the obstacles I have to overcome though is not only Canada’s Olympic selection, but earning our county spot. Unfortunately it hasn’t been a great couple of years for Canadian women, apart from Paula, so at the end of 2011 we had only earned one Olympic spot. So, Joel and I sat down with a plan to earn Canada a 2nd and hopefully 3rd country spot. It’s no easy feat given I have basically missed out on two entire race seasons so am way down there in the rankings, but if I can race to my ability, I can earn that spot. What this means is that I will be racing A LOT this year. It’s not necessarily about targeting one race or peaking for August, it’s about finishing the best I can at each event and chasing those points. Here’s what my schedule will likely look like:

January 15: PATCO Champs, La Paz, Argentina

February 12: Bridgetown Sprint ITU, Barbados *tentative

March 3: Clermont Sprint ITU, Florida

March 25: Mooloolaba World Cup, Australia

April 15: Sydney World Triathlon Series, Australia

April 22: Ishigaki World Cup, Japan

May 5: Huatulco World Cup, Mexico

May 12: San Diego World Triathlon Series, USA

May 27: Madrid, World Triathlon Series, Spain

So as we like to say in our squad, “it’s happening.” I’m very fired up for my Olympic conquest. I know I haven’t given myself a lot of time to make this happen, but this is the way things have panned out, and I’m up for the challenge.

I’m writing this as I fly back from the first race in Argentina. Unfortunately this first race really didn’t go as I had hoped. A tactical error reading the current on the river swim led me to narrowly miss the main front pack. I struggled to find my biking legs and couldn’t bridge the gap. My run was also very sub-par for me and I undoubtedly ran below my current level of fitness. That was frustrating. I don’t know if it was the heat that I struggled with, or the fact that I am returning from such a long lay-off and just don’t have the top end race fitness yet, but there’s nothing like a poor performance to increase the motivation! (just in case I was lacking any! ;) Of course I am happy to be back at the races but am hungry for taking things up a level (or two!) at the next race.

I owe a big thank you to my friends, family and sponsors that have stuck behind me through this difficult time. I truly couldn't continue to chase my dream without your support.

I promise to keep this page updated more frequently as I’d like to share my Olympic journey with others.

Thanks for reading,