Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Exciting times are ahead!

After much debate about my future, I have finally decided on what to do next. In order to let my knee heal properly I have decided to take the 2015 off long course racing. I did not make this decision easily and it took a lot of re-assurance from Adam and my doctor that this was the right one. So, rather than push myself through long runs and another tough season with my fingers crossed that my knee will be OK, I am going to take it easy and let my knee heal properly. Now, that doesn't mean you won't find me at the local Ontario races, trying to get in a few FAST sprint distance tris this year!

You may be wondering, well, what is she going to do with all that extra time? Or you might not care much :) Well, I will tell you anyway. I am actually be going back to school. Apparently a BSc, MSc and 2 additional years taking Kinesiology courses wasn't enough for me! This Monday I will be starting a 10 month program to become a Registered Massage Therapist. I have LOVED coaching and helping the athletes I work with achieve their best performances in triathlon and other endurance sports. As an RMT, I will be able to do more than that by helping athletes recover from their hard training sessions (through massage) and improved knowledge of how the body heals. I am very much looking forward to being an RMT/Coach/FASTER Pro Triathlete in 2016!

Stay tuned to my blog as I write about the challenges of balancing training and school and everything else :) Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A few things I learned along the way

Today I was thinking about how much things can change in just a short while. I was reflecting back on where I was a few years ago and I realized I never could have predicted where I would be today!

June of 2012 was when I raced my first half-ironman in the "PRO" category, so just about 3 years ago. I only realize now how naive I was about so many things. So...what are some of the things that I have learned? Well, here are 3:

1. It takes time to get good. I had lofty goals for my professional career...each year I had a goal I hoped to achieve. Then, after 5 years (in 2017), I wanted to retire having come top 5 at Kona. Hah! Well, I think it's great to have goals - but those goals have to be realistic or one of two things will happen - you will get injured OR you will get disappointed and quit early.

The former happened to me. I achieved all the goals I hoped to in 2012. So, I was on to what I wanted to accomplish in 2013...qualify for IM70.3 Worlds was the big one, hold 195W in a half-ironman bike and a few others. I would say I accomplished 90% of my goals. But in order to accomplish these goals I had to ramp up my training quite quickly (especially the running) and I got injured. In hindsight, I am not surprised. Perhaps life's way of telling me to slow down? A lesson that I should have taken more time to build a base for my training. That I should have spread out the timeline of when I hoped to achieve my goals.

So, I am using this experience to look towards the future...I have goals, but they aren't rushed. And there really isn't a timeline. When I accomplish the first one, I will then set the timeline for the second. For example, my goal for 2015 is to run consistently (without taking any unplanned rest days). If I can do that, then I will aim to complete a half-ironman and then I will set the next goal.

2. You have to learn to embrace change. No matter how well you plan or try to control things nothing is really in your control. Everyday things change. You deal with change due to injury, your personal life, work, family, friends, etc.

The prospect of change doesn't mean that you just have to go day to day without any organization to your life! I think that you should still go about your life, preparing and planning for the future the best that you can. But when something unexpected comes up, you can't let it derail you completely, you just have to try to "calmly" make adjustments given the new situation. There will be days when everything goes wrong, but there are days when everything goes right and days that are a mixed bag of things. So, in my Mamma's words, "you just have to always remember that everything happens for a reason". I'm still not great at this, but I am much better.

3. A "growth mindset" will bring you happiness and a "fixed mindset" will bring you unhappiness. Adam leant me a book awhile back, and I can't remember the name or the author, but it spoke about mindset and the importance of having a growth mindset - or the idea that you CAN change (a fixed mindset is one where you have the idea that you can't change). I never really tried to adopt this growth mindset before, but in the past couple of years I have needed to, and it has made quite a difference. And not just in triathlon (while facing injury), but in life too!

So, when you face challenges (e.g.: a race), obstacles (e.g.: a flat tire during a race), hard effort (e.g.: a hard workout), criticism (e.g.: your nutrition during the race is poor) and/or the success of others (e.g.: your teammate beats you) your mindset can dictate your happiness. A few examples of what I mean: If you view a race as an opportunity to do well then you will be happier than if you view it as a painful experience. If you view criticism as an opportunity to learn then you will be happier than if you view it as someone being mean to you. If getting beat by a teammate can instil motivation versus jealousy than you will be happier. Get my point? Growth mindset = happiness!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why I choose Altra running shoes

Some exciting news: in the midst of my recovery from surgery, I received notification that Altra has chosen me to be an ambassador for their brand! I first starting running in Altra running shoes in 2014 and I would never wear another. Up until I started running in these shoes, I had never found the perfect running shoe. I have a VERY wide forefoot, which I thought made me unique, but apparently is quite common. The typical running shoe (especially for women) is quite narrow. This means that my toes are always getting squished and my feet would burn on long runs. It hurt so badly that I would start heel striking just to offset the pressure on my forefoot! So, how has Altra helped me? The answer is three-fold:

1.My feet no longer burn. The wide forefoot prevents my feet from being squished up against the side of the shoes and allow my toes to splay properly upon impact with the ground. Not only does this feature improve stability and toe-off, but greatly enhances my level of comfort when I run. Now that I'm comfortable when I run, I can focus on my run form.

2. The Zero-drop feature benefits my running style. As a forefoot runner, I don't need the cushy heel that most running shoes have. Since there is less impact when there is no difference between the height of the heel and the forefoot, this feature is useful to prevent injury. A word of caution: for those with a history of calf/Achilles problems I would recommend gradually making the transition to zero-drop shoes. Start with 5 minute runs and gradually build from there. And once you are running in Altras, they will probably strengthen the Achilles and lower calf muscles.

Altras in Action: This is me running a sub-4:00/km pace during a training run in my Altras. No heel striking that's for sure!

3.They are cushy! Unlike most of the minimalist shoes that I have tried with a zero drop feature, the Altras actually have a lot of cushion in the forefoot. Especially the trail running shoes that I use for longer runs (Olympus). Even with this feature they are still surprisingly lightweight. I race most of my half-ironmans in the Torin, which weighs less than any other racing shoe I have tried.

Of note, is that prior to running in Altras, I had 1 to 2 over-use injuries in each of my 10 years of running. Since switching to Altras I have had no over-use injuries! (My current knee injury is a result of a forceful trauma to the knee).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Surgery Results

For those of you who were unaware, I was having arthroscopic surgery of my left knee today to remove a loose body (that was present on an MRI I had in December). This injury was due to trauma I sustained to the knee when I landed funny while running downhill in the last mile of Syracuse Ironman 70.3.

The doctors went in and found damage and swelling on the underside of my patella (previously undetected in my imaging results). The doctor said that I probably bruised the bone when I landed during the race, and the swelling and damage done was a result. I am not sure whether, had I rested after Syracuse, the damage wouldn’t have been as extensive or whether it would happened regardless. Anyway, according to the doctor this will limit my ability to run for the rest of my life. They did try to remove some of the damaged tissue they found behind my kneecap, so that should help. But there is nothing more that they can really do. In terms of the loose body, they couldn’t find it and believe it adhered to the mess behind my kneecap and so it was probably removed with it.

The chances that I will ever run or participate in triathlons at the competitive level has now been called into question. In 6 weeks time I am allowed to run again and I will have to take it day-by-day to see how things go. I am trying to stay positive.

"An athlete must persist with hope in their heart and dreams in their head.” -EZ

Monday, February 9, 2015

Success takes more than talent and hard work

I took an interest in athletics at the age of 8. My parents enrolled me in a house league soccer program in our home town of Port Washington, New York. Every Saturday I'd lace up my cleats (did I even wear cleats then?) and head over to the field. Little did I know that this was the beginning of my lifelong love of competitive sports. Along with soccer there was basketball and then skating, volleyball, swimming and running. I took to athletics pretty naturally, no matter what the sport. I wasn't ever the best on the team, but I did have a natural affinity for most sports and I worked hard. This combination of talent and work ethic got me pretty far. All the way to getting to compete as a professional triathlete!

When I made my decision to quit my full time job in order to compete in triathlons as a pro, I based it on the fact that I seemed to have a lot of potential to do well in the sport (my talent) and that I knew I would work as hard as necessary to reach that potential (my work ethic). What I didn't take into account, was that there is a third necessary element to success..."luck." And I have had my fair share of bad luck in the past few years!

My most recent stroke of really bad luck occurred during my race in Syracuse in June, 2014. I landed funny on a downhill and ended up breaking a piece of cartilage off the back of my patella. Of course, I didn't know this until the end of December! I battled through the rest of the season and even managed a podium finish in Steelhead 70.3. But the pain forced me to withdraw from Ironman Arizona and I was barely training throughout all of September, October and November. Finally, either my body learned how to deal with the floating piece of cartilage in my knee or I became immune to the pain it was causing, because I was able to get back to normal training in December. Well, somewhat "normal" as my fitness level was probably the lowest it had ever been since the start of my professional triathlon career.

So, here I am. I have very slowly build back my fitness to a reasonable level. Nowhere near my peak, but probably about 70-75% of my peak. I have surgery to remove the floating piece of cartilage at the end of February, then more time off training and then, April 1st, I can begin again. But what do I do? Do I continue to try to train and compete at the level of the very best? I know that I have some talent, I definitely have the work ethic, but can I risk the uncertainty and more bad luck? Some very difficult decisions lie ahead...

Friday, November 7, 2014

Week 7: More set backs

I wish that I could report that training has been going well and consistently for the past 7 weeks. However, I can't report on that yet. I had been training for 5 weeks relatively pain free, with the exceptions of some muscle spasms in my left leg. Then 2 weeks ago I hit another major set-back. My knee pain came back and worse than ever. It hurt to swim, bike and run. What does a triathlete do when that happens? Cry? YUP! Question life as they know it? YUP! Want to give up on the sport entirely? YUP! Eat a lot of sugar to feel better? YUP! Watch 10 episodes in a row of Friday Night Lights? YUP!

Successful pro athletes have to give up A LOT for the sport. They have to be inherently selfish to do well, because EVERYTHING they do matters to their performance. To be the best I strongly believe you don't just complete you training. You also have to eat the right foods, get the right amount of sleep, do your best to limit any "outside stresses", etc. It's not easy to do and requires tons of sacrifice. When training is going well and your performance is improving, it is a lot easier to cope with the sacrifices you are making. When you aren't doing well or you are injured, it isn't as easy. If you are like me you feel useless because you don't have anything to identify with if it's not your sport...the time you have spent neglecting friendships becomes evident as you scroll through Facebook to see photos of events you were left out of, because you have declined them every time in the past...you try to take control by coming up with injury prevention plans and strategies for distracting yourself from the situation...you look for a part-time job online to fill the time that you would have otherwise spent training. It's not a fun place to be!

Luckily, in these past few days I think that I have accepted the situation. I can't run right now. That's that. The swimming has come back a little bit. I have joined the Kim Lumsdon Swim and Triathlon Club and I LOVE IT! Kim has swum across Lake Ontario many times and is an inspirational lady and a great coach. I am VERY out of shape, but Kim has put me in the fast lane with some super star swimmers and said that I'll get faster. Here's hoping! The biking I can do at a very low power. Luckily I can use my altitude machine to stimulate riding at 12,500 feet and I can ride at really high cadences (like 120-130rpm!) so I can still get my heart rate up with very little load on the legs. I am also proud to say that I can do 3 complete chin-ups in a row (chin-ups are great for your core!). I am not optimistic yet and my 2015 season is definitely undecided for now, but at least I have accepted the "one day at a time" approach and am much less negative these days!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Week 1: Getting Back Into Things

It's been about 1 week since I was able to start training again! So far things are OK, but far from ideal. When you first get back into things after injury it's not easy! No doubt every athlete has been in my situation at one time or another. It's a mix of emotions, including an anxiousness to resume training, fear of re-injury, frustration about not being fit and maybe some worry about gaining weight!

So, what is my "game plan" for my return to training? Well, I have decided to follow Adam's recommendations (which are rarely the same as what I would recommend for myself!), but usually correct. He's a smart guy. So, I will go 2 months without very much intensity at all. Swimming, biking and running frequently, but never for a long time at once. And all of it in Zone 1 or 2. Especially the running. I will increase the volume gradually each week. I will add in strength training in a couple of weeks. The best time to get stronger is during a time of light aerobic training.

How do I plan to prevent re-injury? I am regularly checking in with a sports doctor and getting treated regularly by my chiropractor, Bill Wells at Urban Athlete. I am also trying to take extra care to self-massage, stretch and strengthen the muscles that were weakened during the injury. I won't run with music either so that I can pay extra attention to any niggles that come up. My runs are mostly on the treadmill, so that I can stop if needed. Or I plan a looped route so that I am never too far from home if I'm running outside.

It is a huge mental battle when you are in this state. I know I am not fit and that is stressful. But stress results in the production of cortisol and cortisol is a hormone that "breaks down" the body. So, I don't want to be stressed! I HAVE to remain positive, despite the situation. I do this by reminding myself that at least I AM able to train right now and, so long as I am patient and don't try to do more training than my body is capable of, I will get a little bit fitter every day. My race season won't start till next spring, so I have lots of time to get fit again. I also get confidence from the fact that I am building a solid base that will prevent re-injury in the future.

Like most competitive athletes, especially female endurance athletes (not all, but some), I am worried about getting fat with so little training! My "natural" self is about 10 pounds heavier than when I am in heavy training and in race shape. So, I know that if I eat normally and don't exercise that is the direction my weight will drift. I need to remind myself that this is OK. Any weight gain will just be used as fuel for when the training ramps up again. I have never had any issues putting on muscle or getting "race fit" (in fact, I tend to lose weight too quickly with training), so a few extra pounds is probably good for me.

Stay tuned for an update in the next couple of weeks!

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