starting the run at the Panorama Classic
Panorama Classic, June 5th 2005, starting out on the run
photo Greg Fox

My first year of triathlon: 2005

June 6

Yesterday I completed the Panorama Classic Triathlon. This is the goal race of the YMCA's triathlon clinic, which started way back in January. Gosh that seems like a long time ago. When I look back to January, I can see that there have been some changes since then, and not just in my heart and lungs.

For example, I remember that when I signed up, my stated goal at the introductory meeting was to not walk during the run component of the race. I was just thinking of making it through. I was confident about the bike segment—thirty kilometres, which I was going to complete on my mountain bike. I had swum the race distance of 500 metres—continuously!—one time, just to see if I could, and I was pretty sure that it had taken me at least twenty minutes, but at least I could do it. However, that eight kilometer run at the end loomed large as I hadn't ever done any significant amount of running.

But soon after I started running and swimming regularly it became apparent that completing the distances, at least on their own, wasn't that big a concern. In fact, those of us following the beginner run program found ourselves on schedule to be able to run 10 kilometres by the time of the Times-Colonist 10K race, so we signed up, and I ran my first race in the midst of 11 000 other people. Wow. Two kilometer swim workouts went by. I promoted myself to the middle swim lane and wasn't always the slowest. Amazing things happen when you do something consistently.

I succumbed to the lure of the road bike and boy was it worth it.

Having had a taste of racing both in the Y clinic's practice triathlon and the 10K, my run partner from the tri clinic who I'd been running with from the start (and who towed me along in the 10K race to a much faster time than I would have run on my own) registered for the Sooke Spring Sprint, and after coming out to check out the bike course, I decided I wanted to do it. The race was fun, although the run felt like almost all hill (as I re-read that it looked like “all hell”, which is true as well). I found my goal for the next race: to catch the 65+er who passed me just before the finish after trading leads through the bike and the run. I also learned that you need to bring really warm clothes and extra footwear for before and after the race, and that thin cotton socks stick to your feet when they're wet!

Finally, the day of the Panorama Classic arrived, and once again we got up at 5 in the morning. All went well: my socks went on straight this time, it didn't rain—much, no flat tires were had, no drafting penalties were incurred. In fact, although my swim time was pretty lacklustre—I know I can do better—I surpassed my best training times on the bike and run, although my legs felt about as bad as they ever have on the bike to run transition (I can't understand why I appear to be smiling in the photo above), for a total time that was better than I had dared hope for: I finished just under 2 hours, which was faster than I had considered possible during training.

July 1

Early Canada Day 10k

I almost didn't go out yesterday. I was well on my way to rationalizing my workout guilt by rescheduling yesterday's activities over the coming long weekend, when I decided to go out for at least a short run. No pressure. Half an hour or so. I've been trying to do more strictly aerobic stuff the last little while, except for a faster 5k this last Tuesday, and so for this run I thought I'd try running at a heart rate of about 160 for a change, which, insofar as I have my intensities figured out, which I don't, I think is a little out of my aerobic zone without getting into my painful racing and uphilling level of effort.

About ten minutes after I finally convince myself to get out I'm running into the wind, sucking in big but comfortable lungfuls of fresh air. It occurs to me, running along in the half dark, that this is what I'd hoped running would eventually feel like. I was afraid it would always feel just as hard as it did in the beginning, just at a faster pace. After all, the fitter you get, the faster you go. And yet, something seems to be happening. Not just the increased power and speed providing a better payoff for my effort, but satisfaction in being able to put out more effort.

It was already dusk when I started so I can't see my watch to see how hard I'm running except when I'm directly underneath a street light. The run along Ross bay is dark, deserted, and really windy. It smells of ocean and small waves are breaking on the pebbles. The hill at the end, up to the 3 kilometer mark feels great. At the top I dodge around a few walkers as if I am invisible, as I might as well be. People walking look weird to me when I'm running: all those layers of cotton, collars, buttons, flapping jackets, leather shoes, wandering along looking totally unfocused.

Up to the 4k mark, the flagpole at Beacon Hill, and without thinking too much about it, I'm going on for five. I've been running on the sidewalk and this is normally the point where I'd step over on the path, but the path goes through some completely shrubbed-in sections here that I don't want to venture into in the dark, so I start running on the street since the sidewalk ends too. There's hardly any traffic so I only have to jump onto the grass a few times to let cars go by. I burn down to the 5k mark, still going strong, although I feel I've burned the excess energy out of my leg muscles. I'll have to work a little harder now.

I take the shady sidewalk back, hoping not to trip on some half-inch high bump and now I'm following my shadow. It's strange; I've run in the dark before, in the spring when the days were short, but I don't remember ever watching my shadow. My shadow looks a bit wimpy when it runs actually, because it's lengthened out in front of me and it looks like it's hardly moving, but at least my upper body looks quiet. This is where some of that mental focus comes in: I feel I have to constantly pay attention to my body position, to keep my movement along the correct planes.

When I finally get back home and stop my watch I expend some battery on the light function. I know this will be a pretty quick run from a glance I took back at 8k, but I am very pleased to find that I've done my unplanned 10k in 55:49. I've surpassed my 10k race time from the spring by more than 30 seconds, although on a different (and not very accurately measured) route maybe that doesn't mean much. Perhaps only to be expected, since that was two months ago and I've been running steadily. What's really encouraging though, is that I managed it with significantly less effort: my heart rate seems to have averaged about 9 beats per minute less, and I feel much better.

Afterwards it struck me that I might as well have done the Canada Day 10k, which was happening the next morning, and yet, that would have been a completely different experience. This was all the more special for being unplanned and totally private.

The joy of open water swimming

Of course, one of the essential skills for the triathlete is swimming in open water. My first try was in Elk lake on a windy day that made the water cold and choppy. The other tri club swimmers lent me a yellow bathing cap for safety and off we went. I immediately discovered that I couldn't maintain my normal breathing rhythm of alternating 2 and 3 strokes, and that I couldn't keep up with Bob, who I could swim with in the pool. This last was a problem, because a cold, choppy, murky lake is a scary place to be alone on your first open water swim. Luckily there was a slightly slower swimmer who was willing to let me latch onto her. I swam the entire way on her feet or beside her, which meant I didn't have to navigate for myself. Near the end of the swim, with the chop picking up and the cold beginning to make itself felt, I remember thinking that triathlon has more of an adventure component than I'd realized. Afterwards Bob assured me cheerfully that it would never be that bad again, which is funny because that's what he told us on the first night of the run clinic which was long, pitch dark, and wringing-out-your-fleece wet. He's been right about further swims and runs being gentler though. I did my next few swims at Thetis lake which was much calmer and warmer and have since gotten much more comfortable with lake swims.

Cowichan Challenge, July 10

The Cowichan Challenge was the first race with an open water swim that I did. It was a near olympic-length race, with a trail run. Speaking of the adventure component of triathlon: when running the course a few weeks before the race, we saw a bear in a cutblock beside the trail. When the race director joked about the bear on race day, we knew he wasn't actually kidding. Of course, the one thing we hadn't practiced was the notorious mass swim start. This one was 140 of us all coming off the beach at once. I started near the back and didn't have any trouble. Looking up and seeing all those swim caps and churning arms ahead of me was impressive though. This was my first race where we all started together, and it's a very different experience from starting in heats, because when you pass somebody, you know that you're really passing them.

Thetis Lake Open Water Swim

In July there was also the open water swim to raise money for the MS society. I did the 1500m distance, but there are also the 3k and 5k distances to think about. Rob Dyke took the day off from swimming around Vancouver Island to do the 3k distance together with his mother.

Self-Transcendence triathlon

This is Canada's longest-running triathlon apparently, and is put on by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team Victoria. Apparently Sri Chinmoy is a spiritual leader who believes in self-transcendence through physical endeavours. Consequently the race shirt is a little unusual in that it doesn't have the usual list of sponsors on it, and bears the motto: “For a oneness-heart, nothing is impossible”.

At any rate, this was my first olympic-length race, the longest to date and it took me just under three hours. The breakdown was almost exactly half the time on the bike, a third of the time running and a sixth swimming. I'm still using a surfing wetsuit, rather than a dedicated triathlon wetsuit, and it's not too bad. A proper triathlon wetsuit would be smooth neoprene rather than cloth-covered rubber with knee pads like this one and would have insets of extra-stretchy rubber under the arms. These are probably features worth having, but it wasn't worth it this season.

Spectating Ironman Canada

Went to watch Ironman Canada in Penticton and signed up for next year. Although throughout most of this year I wouldn't have considered attempting an ironman, at the end of the summer I started getting into doing some longer swims, rides, and runs, and that started giving me the confidence and the interest in taking on the ironman as a really big goal. There were also a few other people in the triathlon clinic signing up, and all of a sudden I began to think that I wanted to do it now, this year.

I'm still thinking about the reasons why I'm doing this. The main thing is that it's an adventure, and a journey. I want to find out what it feels like, and I want to find out what I'm capable of. Plus, I have a certain need to do things that are hard. Do we all have this impulse?

Ironman Canada is so popular that all the spots fill up the day registration opens, which is the day after the race. So unless you're fast enough to win a spot in a qualifying race, you need to show up in person and stand in line to register a full year ahead. Having paid my money in Penticton, I came home and finished the registration process online, waiting to see when I'd show up on the list. It's both exciting and unnerving to see my name up there on the list of participants. (I notice lots of people were much more creative with the profession field: apparently between all the health and I.T. industry people in the race I'll also be sharing the road with a kangaroo whisperer, a secret agent, a wmd thief, a cow tipper, a bank robber and a fat bastard, to name a few.)

Royal Victoria Marathon, October 9th

Taralyn and me after the race. Thanks Jason for the picture. Well, my first marathon is behind me, and it was a great experience. What makes road races such fun is the fact that it's a festival; people come from near and far just to do this run, and it's a pretty special feeling to run down the major streets of your city with hundreds—thousands—of other people.

The weather was very good: cool (predicted high of 14) and overcast with a little sun coming through at the end, and just a little bit of a breeze. My run partner from the triathlon clinic and I set out together, and amazingly we ran together for the whole race. We stuck to our goal pace of 6:30 per kilometre for the whole race and finished in 4:34:47, taking only about a minute and a half longer for the second half than the first half. I was thrilled that I was able to run the whole way because that was a goal in itself.

I got pretty sore and achy in the legs along the way, which I think is inevitable when you hit the pavement that many times, but other than that it really wasn't too bad. Bit of a bad patch at 30k, but that cleared up again. I ate five gels (for the non-race-nutrition initiated, those are packets of semi-liquid carbohydrate), and I don't think I drank nearly enough, but I got away with it.

Today, the day after, I feel better than the stories had led me to expect. I'm sore, but I'm able to walk down stairs.

Gunner Shaw—November 26

This race is put on by a local running club in the memory of one of their founding members. It's a 10k cross-country race that's famous for its hills and mud. I'd heard about it years ago from friends at Uvic, and now that I'm running, I thought I should give it a try. Besides, who could resist this race report from which I give you the following quote:
“Before me is not a puddle, not even a pond. It is the deepest, dirtiest, and certainly the coldest water hazard I've even seen. Again, the pack bunches, like a flock of nervous penguins afraid to leave the (comparative) warmth of their cracking ice flow for the uncertain perils of the rolling Antarctic Sea.”
Well, I didn't see anyone hesitate yesterday. By the time we reached the famous water hazard (and we were warned before we saw it by the swampy smell) we were pumped on adrenaline and competitive instinct and plunged right in. This wasn't a big rain year so the puddle wasn't that big, but it was still thigh deep and when I ventured off to the side to pass some people I nearly fell into what felt like a ditch off to the side. The terrain was mostly up and down with mud in between and rocks all through, but I didn't see anyone get hurt and overall it was a pretty good time.

New bicycle, December 29

“There are some things nobody needs in this world, and a flame-painted, steep-angle, aero-tubed, warp-speed Guru racing bicycle is one of them—but I want one anyway, and on some days I actually believe I need one. That is why they are dangerous . . .
   Not everybody who buys a high-dollar aero-brute yearns to crawl across the finish line in Kona. Some of us are decent people who want to stay out of the medical tent, but still finish before midnight in Penticton . . . For that we need Fine Machinery.”

With apologies to Hunter S. Thompson

Here is a picture of my new Fine Machinery, although it doesn't do it justice. It's a 2002 Guru Crono.

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