Much like I had my off-season as a triathlete, so did this little blog here.  Fall was a busy time for me personally and professionally, and now that life has calmed down a bit and we've entered a new year, I finally feel ready to write again.  Thanks for bearing with me!

So what have I been up to the past few months?

From a work perspective, I executed a new program in the Edmonton marketplace and planned two galas for one of our top eminence programs in Canada.  I also had a new professional opportunity come my way, so I will be moving onto a new organization and role starting next week.  I'm looking forward to the challenge and getting back into the swing of things!

From a travel perspective, I've been all over the place.  New York City, State College, Calgary, Denver, Breckenridge, Pittsburgh - it's all been wonderful.  We were able to travel home for both my cousin Renee's wedding over Canadian Thanksgiving, as well as for Christmas this year, which included seeing almost all of our extended family and meeting my best friend Erin's newborn son, Bryce.  And for that, we are most thankful.

From a health perspective, all was well and fine until I got knocked upside down with the flu in December.  Unfortunately, it started in Denver and ended a week and a half later in Pittsburgh, and was NOT fun.  In fact, just this week I'm starting to feel like I'm returning to my normal self.

From a training perspective, I took full advantage of the off-season.  I spent more time with Shaun and approached fitness a bit more leisurely.  I ran the Frank McNamara Fall XC Series, snuck in a PR at the Halloween Howl 10K and kicked December off with the 25K Pack Mentality run.  I enjoyed meandering through the river valley with the dogs, and was constantly reminded that running the loop with them (a bonus if there's snow) is one of my favorite simple pleasures in life.  I did Fall spin classes and yoga here and there, but most importantly, enjoyed the off-season.

Who knows what 2014 will bring, but I am here and ready to embrace it.  I hope you all are, too!
 
 
My first Edmonton summer has come and gone, and while I'm sad about the sun setting earlier in the evening, I'm not going to lie - I've been enjoying the cooler temperatures.  Hoodie weather, if you will.  Although who am I kidding, it never did get exactly 'hot' here this summer!

One of my favorite things about fall (other than the overkill of pumpkin everything, a train Edmonton needs to quickly hop onto) is experiencing the perfect run.  That run where it's just cool enough to wear shorts and a long-sleeved top.  And maybe even a vest.  That run where you're hearing the crunching of leaves with every step.  That run that ends in darkness once you've run up the road with a quick glance of the sunset and a 'thank you, Lord, for the beautiful day and great friends' feeling.

On Sunday, a group of us headed out to the Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area to run a 25km loop of the Blackfoot Ultra.  I had been looking forward to this long run all week and wasn't even mad when I woke up to 40 degree F temps and rain.  Shaun and I had some eggs and kamut toast with apricot preserves (thanks, Jessie & Fabs!) along with our coffee, and after readying our camelbacks with water and Honey Stingers, we were out the door with the pups and on the way to the shop to meet everyone and head out.
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I swear they were more excited than this photo leads you to believe.
Despite the wet grounds and light rain drizzle at times, the temperature was perfect for a long run! Even with my mostly waterproof trail shoes, my feet were soaked a mile in which made for some fun squishing and questionable blisters at the end, but as always, it was worth it.  The leaves on the trails made for some gorgeous scenery and it was so fun to spend a couple of hours with our Edmonton family just taking in all that fall has to offer. (Please snow, don't come for at least another two weeks!)
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Courtney and I
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Graeme and Rich (and some babes up ahead loving life and the new sniffs!)
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My signature 'two thumbs up' - and I'm thinking this is blurry because I was just breezing by so quickly ;)
We finished our 25km loop (that's 15 miles for my fellow Americans) in 2:37.  While we weren't out to set any records, I was really happy with our time considering I'm still recovering from Ironman Canada and the trails were all hills.  Shaun set a new PDR (personal distance record) so Hailey (looking ever so clean) congratulated him with a boatload of licks and kisses.  All in all, a perfect Sunday Funday!
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Celebrating a successful run!
What are your favorite things about fall?  What's your idea of the perfect run?
 
 
It's hard to believe that it's been 18 days since Ironman Canada.  It feels like the race was in a different lifetime!

As I mentioned in my race report, I was painfully sore the night of the race.  I felt like one giant bruise.  Driving home 13 hours on Monday didn't exactly help that either, and the lack of sleep leading into Tuesday made me question whether I was human or not.  By Wednesday though, my body was feeling pretty darn good physically and by the end of the week I felt amazing!  No pain, no soreness, no problem.  Except the sleep thing.  I couldn't quite seem to catch up on that, regardless of whether or not I slept eight, ten or even fourteen hours a night.

Last Wednesday, I met my friends for the first night of a fall XC trail series that we're all racing.  
Just ten days out of Ironman Canada and feeling good otherwise, I was excited for the night and to dive back into running and racing.

Boy, if only I knew what I was getting myself into.

That 5K run (done in high temps and high humidity, for Edmonton at least) did absolutely nothing for my confidence.  My legs felt as if they had never run before.  I thought I was going to throw up every five minutes.  The course, which should have been exciting as it's part of the loop I run a few times each week with the dogs, left me walking the uphills.  I had thrown in the towel a minute in.  But I held on and finished the race, albeit with a slow (for me) and deflating time of 27.38 for the 5K.

After an evening of pitying myself, I started researching how to properly recover from an Ironman. You know, something I should have done months ago.  After all, I had just raced an Ironman.  How in the world could my body not handle a 5K?  I can do anything now!  I'm an Ironman!

Turns out Ironman Recovery is the real deal.  It's worse than Ironman Taper.  It sucks all life out and you, makes you feel utterly useless and really tests your spouse's patience.  Trust me on this one.

Here's what my research led me to find:

Week One
  • You're feeling good and you're still riding the Ironman high, but your body is nowhere near ready for the exercise circuit you had been putting it through previously.
  • Also known as time to reacquaint yourself with your loved ones, pets, favorite couch, bed and foods that you haven't eaten in months.

Weeks Two and Three
  • Also known as the honeymoon phase, this is where you feel good enough to work out but actually shouldn't.  
  • And if you do decide to push it, you will fall flat pretty quickly.  Don't expect much from yourself. (Well, phew, that explains my 5K performance!)  
  • Swimming is fine, cycling is OK if done easily and to spin out the legs, and running is not recommended until at week three at least.  And the run should be very, very easy. (Now I'm really starting to feel better about that 5K...)
  • Editor note #1: this was also the period during which I had my first post-Ironman meltdown.  Cue full-on 'my life has no meaning/I'm so miserable/I'm so lonely/I'm so fat and out of shape' with tears meltdown.  And nothing could convince me otherwise.  I guess that's the norm, but it was NOT fun.  
  • Editor note #2: surprisingly, I also ran an 8K race (the second of the aforementioned series) during this time period and enjoyed it much more as I paced myself to go out slow and test my legs.  On lap two I was feeling pretty good, so I negative split the race and pulled in a 48.33 for the 8K.  Certainly not my fastest, but I was happy that I lowered my expectations and decided to just have fun with it and enjoy it.

Week Four
  • Ahh, the transition phase, where you're about ready to get back to normal training.
  • Cycling intervals are good and light running is OK, but don't be too overzealous and suck the fun out of your training.

And racing.  When should that happen?  Turns out, the answer is six to eight weeks out of race day. Six weeks is seemingly the minimum amount of time to have a repeat performance and eight weeks is more likely to place you in PR range.  So my 5K race just 10 days out of Ironman?  That surely won't happen again in the future.  You know, after my next Ironman ;)
So for now I'll continue to enjoy the time period known as Ironman Recovery.  I'll drink beer, drink wine, drink margaritas (see a trend?), workout a bit less, enjoy time with Shaun a bit more, and know that I am not a waste of life and that my life, does in fact, have meaning.  And maybe I'll brainstorm my next challenge.  This Ironman Recovery period will be over before I know it...
 
 
Man, this post has been a long time coming.  And I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity to write it.  So please - grab a coffee and settle in.  It may be a long one, but it's a good one!

Pre-Race

Our Ironman journey began on Wednesday night.  Since Steph and Rich were also racing, we decided to caravan to Whistler with a stop in Jasper Wednesday evening.  Steph's sister, brother-in-law and nephew live in Jasper and it was such a fun treat to visit with them and stay for the night.  It also helped to break up the 13-hour drive, which was so beautiful otherwise.
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Leaving Jasper for Whistler.
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One of many terrible views on the drive to Whistler.
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Another horrible view on the drive to Whistler.
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Just mimicking some bears at a gas station pit-stop...
We continued to Whistler on Thursday morning.  Following another nine hours and some twists and turns on 99 which I thought were going to be the end of me, we were in Whistler Village and checked into our hotel, the Summit Lodge and Spa.  (Sidenote: I booked the hotel on Priceline, my first time ever using that website.  We got the room for an amazing deal, booked just eight months out from race day.)  I would highly recommend this hotel, especially for those racing Ironman Canada in 2014.  Our room was spacious and included a kitchenette and balcony (key for wetsuit drying!) and was super close to the finish line.  That evening, we grabbed dinner at Sushi Village and called it a night.  I slept nine hours and was so happy for some quality rest.
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My most favorite Olympic rings EVER.
Friday was a busy one.  The day started off in the Ironman expo/village area at Athlete Check-In.  We completed our paperwork (this basically contained our medical information and emergency contact information), received our athlete bags and were able to do some damage in the merchandise tent.  (Seriously, lots of damage. Even Shaun went crazy!)
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Signing my life away to race.
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Checking out our athlete bags in the Village.
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Dr. Steph performing minor surgery on my nagging bee sting area.
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All checked in and no turning back!
On Friday afternoon, we grabbed Mexican (ceviche!) for lunch and then took a spin on our bikes and rode the run course so that we could see what we'd be getting ourselves into.  With Rich's help, I also bought and replaced the cleats on my shoes.  (Super glad I did that pre-race.)  Rich and Steph also went for a quick swim in Alta Lake, but I opted to head back to my hotel for a shower and some rest before the opening ceremonies/rules meeting.

Having only been to the athlete dinner in Kona (I know, what an amazing and unforgettable one to begin with!) I was really looking forward to attending the opening ceremonies in Whistler.  Ironman Canada decided to do something different and instead of hosting a dinner, gave each athlete a $25 voucher good at a number of higher-end establishments in Whistler.  I personally LOVED this as then I wasn't forced to eat food I couldn't/didn't like, and it also gave you time to catch up with friends and family.

Shaun and I headed to the village and enjoyed the hour-long opening ceremonies.  There was entertainment from a First Nations group, some fun facts about Ironman Canada participants, and of course, everyone's favorite stories of those overcoming some of life's greatest obstacles to compete in Ironman Canada.  Remember: no matter how bad your life may seem, someone is always fighting a greater battle.
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2013 Ironman Canada Opening Ceremonies
If you follow Ironman races at all, you know it's perhaps someone's greatest moment in life to hear Mike Reilly announce them as an Ironman when they cross the finish line.  Well, Mike wasn't able to announce Ironman Canada due to his daughter's wedding occurring the same weekend.  I couldn't even tell you the name of the main announcer because they immediately told us that Tom Ziebart would also be filling this role.  Now to most of you, the name Tom Ziebart means nothing, but to me?  I let out the most excited squeal as I used work with Tom when I was with FH/Gatorade and was in Kona with him in 2007.  Suddenly, everything was aligning perfectly.

On Friday evening, we met Rich, Steph and two other friends from the shop who were in town for the race, Jan and Briggita, for dinner at the Wild Wood Pacific Bistro.  The restaurant was not crowded and we were able to enjoy a great meal and even better company.  Again, I am so blessed to have found my Edmonton friends-now-family.  After heading back to the room, I clocked another nine hours of sleep and was really feeling good about my rest.

On Saturday, I woke up and dove into my bags.  Let me tell you: the Ironman most certainly suits the Type-A individual.  With run gear, bike gear, and run and bike special needs bags, I had my work cut out for me.  (Seriously, it took me and my paranoia a couple hours to finish these bad boys.)
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My lifelines on race day.
I met up with Rich and Steph to drop my run bag off in T2 and bike gear and bike off in T1.  And then Steph decided it would be easier (and safer) to just ride our bags to T1 (true) versus toss them in a shuttle, so that's what we did.  After a short warm-up swim, we were on the bus and headed back to the Village!
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Run bag drop off in T2.
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#111 all racked and ready to go next to the pros!
Following an early dinner (which consisted of matzoh ball soup & roast beef sliders) I went back to my room to finalize my nutrition and special needs bags.  Not long after, it was 9 pm, which meant lights out for one final pre-Ironman sleep!

Race Day

Finally, we're getting to the reason you're reading this blog post.

On race morning, my alarm went off at 4 am.  Shaun grabbed me some coffee from the lobby and I drank that (you have to get things moving on race morning, if you know what I mean) along with a G2.  I also ate a piece of gluten-free toast with peanut butter and honey and one chocolate PowerBar.  At 5 am, I kissed Shaun goodbye and made my way to drop off my special needs bags and catch the shuttle to the swim start at Alta Lake from T2.
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You can barely see, but Shaun captured me walking to T2 from our hotel on race morning.
I had been pretty guarded with my goal time and plan for the race because I was afraid to set myself up for failure.  I believe in myself just as much as the next person does, but there are a lot of unknowns on race day.  My goal time was 14 hours and my race plan was to push my swim, maintain a strong pace on the bike, and then pace myself through the run by walking through aid stations and power walking all decent uphills.

Once arriving at T1, I added my nutrition to my bike, Rich pumped my tires, and I threw on my wetsuit and tossed my clothes into my morning clothes bag.  With the drop of the bag, I was headed to the water as the race was about to begin.  I wasn't too nervous and my stomach was not tossing and turning, which I was beyond thankful for.  

The Swim

The swim course featured a mass in-water start and two loops around Alta Lake.  Knowing 2600 people were planning to start this race, I got into the water early, took a quick pee in the wetsuit, and got myself to the front of the line.  I was so excited for the day to begin and said a prayer to myself following Oh Canada just before the cannon blasted for us to begin.

Overall, I would describe the swim in one word: PHYSICAL.  Wowzers, these athletes were not holding anything back in the water.  I was kicked in the chest, kicked in the jaw, toppled over, clawed and had my goggles kicked off, but what really frustrated me was when a man held my head under water.  Literally, he took his hand, put it on my cap, and held me under for a solid 15 seconds.  I couldn't believe that happened.  But rather than fight back and waste precious energy, I just swam past him and kept with my pack.  Thank goodness that happened to me and not someone who wasn't a strong swimmer; it would have easily (and unfortunately) ended their race.

I felt that my swim could have been faster, at least by five minutes, but the lake was so crowded that there was no where to go.  Even if I had been swimming my fastest, it wouldn't have gotten me much further.  But it was still a strong swim, and one that I was happy to leave behind!

Total swim time: 1:12.05 (15th in division, 120th in females, 647th overall)
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A look out onto T1 and Alta Lake pre-swim!
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Shaun surprised me at T1 with a great spot on the fence to wish me good luck on the bike!
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Happy with my swim and ready to rock & roll on the bike!
Swim-to-Bike transition total time: 12:36 (eh, could have been much faster but it was hard to change while soaking wet and I wanted to be comfortable for 180km!)

The Bike

Ah, the bike.  Also known as the part of the day I was most fearful for.  I'm not sure why, because it's the area I focused on most in training with endless trainer sessions, Banff to Jasper, and a handful of century rides.  Plus, I had my new bike!  But for some reason, I was worried I wouldn't make the cutoff times and with the possibility that a mechanical error could nip me in the bud, let's just say I wanted to start strong.

The bike course was not a walk in the park.  And actually, I liked it that way.  With 180km of hills (6600 feet of elevation gained; apparently this is now the hardest bike course in North America) and false flats, the course was very easy to break up into sections which really helped me to pace myself.  Alta Lake - Callaghan Valley.  Up Callaghan.  Down Callaghan.  Callaghan Valley to Whistler Village.  Whistler Village to Pemberton.  Pemberton out.  Pemberton back.  And finally, Pemberton back to Whistler Village.

I'll admit the first 40km did not feel great.  I was getting adjusted and for some reason, my legs always take forever to warm up on rides.  But by the time I was coming back down Callaghan, I was relieved and feeling strong.  I was keeping my cadence high and settling into my aerobars really well.  I was riding up hills in my bars, enjoying that power source moreso than sitting up, and for me, taking the downhills at a quick pace.  I hit 90km at 3:30 and was very pleased.
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Saw Shaun at about 60km on the bike. He waved a Terrible Towel and I gave him a 'woo!' and thumbs up!
When I was in Kona, I had asked some of the triathletes what they thought about for the 112-mile bike ride.  Many commented that they just counted their cadence over and over and said mantras to themselves.  I tried to channel my inner World Championship Ironman, and focused on this as well as getting in my nutrition.  In total on the bike, I ate one chocolate PowerBar, one cashew butter MacroBar, three bags of Honey Stinger energy chews, one PowerGel and five bottles of Gatorade.  Oh, and I also grabbed some potato chips in my special needs bag.  The saltiness was incredible!

The final 90km of the bike included 60km of flats and 30km of climbing back to Whistler Village.  I settled into my bars for the Pemberton flats and was pleasantly surprised to be passing a lot of people.  It was this road that made me feel like I was meant to be here.  Meant to be pushing it on the bike, meant to be struggling, meant to be pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  I saved a bit in my legs for the hills back to town (which were pretty brutal - I passed many grown men walking their bikes) and rolled into the Village with a huge smile on my face.  The bike was done, and now it was up to my own two feet to finish the race for me.

Total bike time: 7:12.57 (52nd in division, 328th in females, 1497 overall)
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On the beautiful and challenging bike course.
I biked into the T2 chute and handed off my bike to a volunteer before grabbing my run bag and heading into the change tent.  I had a wonderful volunteer helping me with all of my stuff - she got my shoes ready, took my Advil out for me and really ensured I was set to go for the rest of the race.  I ran (wobbled?) out of the tent, had some sunscreen slathered onto me, and off I went!

Bike-to-run total transition time: 8:54 (SF swimmers, that one's for you!!)

The Run

If you want a flat run course, Ironman Canada is not for you.  But if you want a scenic and fun trail course, Ironman Canada IS for you!

The first five or so miles of the run had me a bit worried that it was going to be a long marathon.  My legs were struggling to comprehend that we had to run following that bike and took a while to get into a groove.  But after that, they did, and it made the race a lot more fun.

Knowing I'm no speed demon, I decided to walk each aid station (which I did at each 70.3 this year) and I was really happy with my decision.  At each aid station, I had a cup of water, a few sips of a sports drink, and a cup of potato chips.  I also added in chicken broth towards the end and took one gel for each 13.1 mile loop.  Knock on wood, my stomach was on my side and I had zero cramping and stomach issues.  This may have been the greatest accomplishment of the day, to be honest!

Throughout the run, I did my best to maintain a steady pace without pushing things too much.  I wanted to finish strong and I wanted to enjoy myself.  I was smiling the entire run and thanking all of the volunteers and spectators.  After all, without them, we couldn't have been out there racing!  In fact, a few women commented to me that I was having so much fun that I didn't even look tired or sweaty.  Let me assure you, I was sweating.  My black tank was caked in salt.  But I was going off nutritional energy and adrenaline, and it was pretty awesome.

I saw Shaun at mile 12 and he ran with me for 100 yards or so.  I told him I was doing well and he told me that he had talked to my mom, best friend Erin and some others, and that everyone was pulling for me on Facebook!  That was really so cool to hear and to know that so many people genuinely cared about what I was doing.  I told him I'd see him again in 12 miles and off I went!
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At Mile 12 of the run!
On my second loop, my blisters really started to make their presence known.  But hell, I was doing an Ironman, no blister was going to stop me!  I maintained my pace and followed my plan and before I knew it, I was reaching the 25 mile mark.  I can't quite remember where I last saw Shaun, but I know he told me that I just had to run down the hill and around the corner and then I would be there.  I kicked up my little legs and ran the best mile of my life to the finish line!
Total run time: 4:50.37 (47th in division, 288th of females, 1303 overall)

As soon as I crossed the finish line, a volunteer was there to 'catch' me and make sure I was OK.  I assured him I was, so he led me to my race medal, finishers hat, finishers shirt, insulated wrap, a bottle of water and post-race photos.  I also found Steph and Shaun waiting for me and was SO happy to seem them as an Ironman!
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Cycle-Logic Racing Team at Ironman Canada! We missed you, Courtney!
Overall Ironman time: 13:37:09 
After taking in the sights and sounds of the finish line, I headed back to the room for a hot shower (amazing) and some sleep.  I don't think I really slept much that night since every single part of my body hurt.  Think of a giant bruise, times one million.  That's how I felt.  But I was still riding my Ironman high and it didn't matter.

The next morning, we met Rich and Steph for breakfast (bacon has never tasted better) and went to the roll down ceremony.  Unfortunately for Steph, there were four Kona spots in our age group and she came in fifth and there were no roll-downs.  But she still had an epic race (10:54!) and is destined to make Kona in 2014, I just know it!
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Steph receiving her award.
Before hopping in our cars for the 13-hour drive back to Edmonton (which I would never recommend again following an Ironman, God Bless Shaun...) there was just one final thing to do.
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Ironman down, Olympics to go?! ;)
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And with the one who helped make this all possible :)
Overall, racing Ironman Canada was one of the best days of my life.  After months of training and sacrificing, it was such a pleasure and honor to be racing with so many great competitors.  I know I have a soft spot in my heart for Whistler, but it truly was the most perfect race venue.  The volunteers were amazing (friendly Canadians, eh!) and we couldn't have asked for better weather for race day.  From start to finish in Whistler, my Ironman experience was everything I dreamed it could have been and more.  I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to train for and compete in the race, it truly is a blessing.

There are so many people to thank for making this race possible that I will most certainly need to dedicate another blog post to them!  I was beyond overwhelmed by the support and encouragement that so many of you shared with me throughout my training, leading up to race day, on race day and following the completion of the event.  I am inspired by each and every one of you for many different reasons as I hope I helped you tell yourself that no dream is ever too big.

As I said on Facebook, exactly one year previous to the date as I crossed the Ironman finish line, I started my new life in Canada.  I had no friends here, no family in the country and no job.  But I had dreams.  Don't EVER lose sight of your dreams.  You can do ANYTHING you put your mind to!
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2013 Ironman Canada Finishers Medal
 
 
It's Wednesday and while I have a million and one things that I should be doing, I needed to tell the world to stop, or at least slow down, while I gather my thoughts on this weekend.

It's hard to believe that the date circled in my calendar for months now is finally arriving.  The day I have dedicated my life (and savings) to for the past eight months.  The day in which I hope to accomplish something greater than I ever thought possible.  The day I (God willingly) will become an Ironman.

I'm not going to lie.  I've got a LOT on my mind right now.  Do I have everything I need?  Am I ready for the challenging bike course?  Should I have tapered differently?  Is it OK that I probably gained five pounds this past week just because I've been eating and not training as much?  Is my bike going to flat out on me?  Is it going to be cold, hot or windy?  Really, the list goes on and on and on...

This article that my friend (and now an Ironman as of Sunday, you get it girl) Christa sent me sums it up pretty well.  Please humor me and read it.
You've been following your schedule to the letter. You've been piling on the mileage, piling up the laundry, and getting a set of tan lines that will take until next year to erase. Long rides were followed by long runs, which both were preceded by long swims, all of which were followed by recovery naps that were longer than you slept for any given night during college. 

You ran in the snow. 
You rode in the rain. 
You ran in the heat. 
You ran in the cold. 

You went out when others stayed home. 
You rode the trainer when others pulled the covers over their heads. 

You have survived the Darwinian progression that is an Ironman summer, and now the hardest days are behind you. Like a climber in the Tour de France coming over the summit of the penultimate climb on an alpine stage, you've already covered so much ground...there's just one more climb to go. You shift up, you take a drink, you zip up the jersey; the descent lies before you...and it will be a fast one. 

Time that used to be filled with never-ending work will now be filling with silent muscles, taking their final, well-earned rest. While this taper is something your body desperately needs, your mind cast off to the background for so very long, will start to speak to you. 

It won't be pretty. 

It will bring up thoughts of doubt, pain, hunger, thirst, failure, and loss. It will give you reasons why you aren't ready. It will try and make one last stand to stop you, because your brain doesn't know what the body already does. Your body knows the truth: 

You are ready. 

Your brain won't believe it. It will use the taper to convince you that this is foolish - that there is too much that can go wrong. 

You are ready. 

Finishing an Ironman is never an accident. It's the result of dedication, focus, hard work, and belief that all the long runs in January, long rides in April, and long swims every damn weekend will be worth it. It comes from getting on the bike, day in, day out. It comes from long, solo runs. From that first long run where you wondered, "How will I ever be ready?" to the last long run where you smiled to yourself with one mile to go...knowing that you'd found the answer. 

It is worth it. Now that you're at the taper, you know it will be worth it. The workload becomes less. The body winds up and prepares, and you just need to quiet your worried mind. Not easy, but you can do it. 

You are ready. 

You will walk into the water with 2000 other wide-open sets of eyes. You will look upon the sea of humanity, and know that you belong. You'll feel the chill of the water crawl into your wetsuit, and shiver like everyone else, but smile because the day you have waited for so VERY long is finally here. 

You will tear up in your goggles. Everyone does. 

The helicopters will roar overhead. 
The splashing will surround you. 

You'll stop thinking about Ironman, because you're now racing one. 

The swim will be long - it's long for everyone, but you'll make it. You'll watch as the shoreline grows and grows, and soon you'll hear the end. You'll come up the beach and head for the wetsuit strippers. Three people will get that sucker off before you know what happening, then you’ll head for the bike. 

The voices, the cowbells, and the curb-to-curb chalk giving you a hero's sendoff can't wipe the smile off your face. 

You'll settle down to your race. The crowds will spread out on the road. You'll soon be on your bike, eating your food on your schedule, controlling your Ironman. 

You'll start to feel that morning sun turn to afternoon sun. It's warmer now. Maybe it's hot. Maybe you're not feeling so good now. You'll keep riding. You'll keep drinking. You'll keep moving. After all, this is just a long training day with valet parking and catering, right? 

You'll put on your game face, fighting the urge to feel down as you ride for what seems like hours. You reach special needs, fuel up, and head out. 

By now it'll be hot. You'll be tired. Doubts will fight for your focus. Everyone struggles here. You've been on that bike for a few hours, and stopping would be nice, but you won't - not here. Not today. 

You'll grind the false flats to the climb. You'll know you're almost there. You'll fight for every inch of road. The crowd will come back to you here. Let their energy push you. Let them see your eyes. Smile when they cheer for you - your body will get just that little bit lighter. 

Grind. 
Fight. 
Suffer. 
Persevere. 


You'll plunge down the road, swooping from corner to corner, chaining together the turns, tucking on the straights, letting your legs recover for the run to come - soon! You'll roll back - you'll see people running out. You'll think to yourself, "Wasn't I just here?" 

The noise will grow. The chalk dust will hang in the air - you're back, with only 26.2 miles to go. You'll relax a little bit, knowing that even if you get a flat tire or something breaks here, you can run the damn bike into T2. 

You'll roll into transition. 100 volunteers will fight for your bike. You'll give it up and not look back. You'll have your bag handed to you, and into the tent you'll go. You'll change. You'll load up your pockets, and open the door to the last long run of your Ironman summer - the one that counts. 

You'll take that first step of a thousand...and you'll smile. You'll know that the bike won't let you down now - the race is down to your own two feet. The same crowd that cheered for you in the shadows of the morning will cheer for you in the brilliant sunshine of a summer Sunday. High-five people on the way out. Smile. Enjoy it. This is what you've worked for all year long. 

That first mile will feel great. So will the second. By mile 3, you probably won't feel so good. 

That's okay. You knew it couldn't all be that easy. You'll settle down just like you did on the bike, and get down to your pace. You'll see the leaders coming back the other way. Some will look great - some won't. You might feel great, you might not. No matter how you feel, don't panic - this is the part of the day where whatever you're feeling, you can be sure it won't last. 

You'll keep moving. You'll keep drinking. You'll keep eating. Maybe you'll be right on plan - maybe you won't. If you're ahead of schedule, don't worry - believe. If you're behind, don't panic - roll with it. Everyone comes up with a brilliant race plan for Ironman, and then everyone has to deal with the reality that planning for something like Ironman is like trying to land a man on the moon. By remote control. Blindfolded. 

How you react to the changes in your plan will dictate your day. Don't waste energy worrying about things - just do what you have to when you have to, and keep moving. Keep eating. Keep drinking. Just don't sit down - don't EVER sit down. 

You'll make it to the halfway point. You'll load up on special needs. Some of what you packed will look good, some won't. Eat what looks good, toss the rest. Keep moving. Start looking for people you know. Cheer for people you don't. You're headed in - they're not. They want to be where you are, just like you wanted to be when you saw all those fast people headed into town. Share some energy - you'll get it right back. 

Run if you can. 
Walk if you have to. 
Just keep moving. 

The miles will drag on. The brilliant sunshine will yawn. You'll be coming up to those aid stations fully alive with people, music, and chicken soup. TAKE THE SOUP. Keep moving. 

You'll soon only have a few miles to go. You'll start to believe that you're going to make it. You'll start to imagine how good it's going to feel when you get there. Let those feelings drive you on. When your legs just don't want to move anymore, think about what it's going to be like when someone catches you…and puts a medal over your head... all you have to do is get there. 

You'll start to hear the people in town. People you can't see in the twilight will cheer for you. They'll call out your name. Smile and thank them. They were there when you left on the bike, and when you came back, and when you left on the run, and now when you've come back. 

You'll enter town. You'll start to realize that the day is almost over. You'll be exhausted, wiped out, barely able to run a 10-minute mile (if you're lucky), but you'll ask yourself, "Where did the whole day go?" You'll be standing on the edge of two feelings - the desire to finally stop, and the desire to take these last moments and make them last as long as possible. 

You'll hit mile 25. Your Ironman will have 1.2 miles - just 2KM left in it. 

You'll run. You'll find your legs. You'll fly. You won't know how, but you will run. The lights will grow brighter, brighter, and brighter. Soon you'll be able to hear the music again. This time, it'll be for keeps. 

Soon they'll see you. Soon, everyone will see you. You'll run towards the lights, between the fences, and into the night sun made just for you. 

They'll say your name. 
You'll keep running. 
Nothing will hurt. 


The moment will be yours - for one moment, the entire world will be looking at you and only you. 

You'll break the tape at the finish line, 140.6 miles after starting your journey. The flash will go off. 

You'll stop. You'll finally stop. Your legs will wobble their last, and suddenly...be capable of nothing more. 

Someone will catch you. 
You'll lean into them. 

It will suddenly hit you. 

YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! 

You are ready. 
You are ready.

And you know what?  It's true.  I have put in the hard work and I am ready.  I am ready for the toughest mental and physical battle of my life.  I am ready to push myself to accomplish my dream.

We leave tonight to start our trek to Whistler.  After spending the night in Jasper, we'll arrive tomorrow evening. I will check-in Friday, do some light workouts, attend the athlete briefing, drop my bike and gear bags on Saturday, and throw my feet up knowing that it's all in God's hands from here.

But I'm not too proud to ask for some final help and motivation from everyone.  So if you have any final encouraging messages or thoughts for me, please leave them here in the comments, text me or email me.  I'm planning to gather everything and re-read them as much as possible over the next few days to remind myself why I'm here and how grateful I am for this journey.  

Thank you all for the love and support along this crazy journey.  I will be doing everything I can out there on Sunday to make you all proud!
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Two weeks ago in Whistler, eyeing up the finish line!
 
 
Last weekend, I completed my second Half Ironman distance triathlon: Ironman 70.3 Calgary!

I made a last minute decision - the Sunday before, in fact, after a 185km ride - to sign up for and race Calgary.  I was going to be putting in the mileage and hours regardless, so why not do them in a race environment with friends?  Plus, I thought it would be smart to gain some additional long race experience, especially if something were to go wrong.  Then I could fix it and be comfortable with the uncertainty of race day challenges. 

Steph picked me up Friday evening and off we went on the three-hour drive with our friend Amanda. The GURUs kept each company on the roof while Starbucks, girl talk and a radio station contest kept us entertained during the ride!
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Calgary and despite an early morning (thankfully, not race morning) fire alarm, our stay was great.  The hotel was extremely accommodating with the athletes and as such, I will definitely look to stay then when I'm in town again for work.

On Saturday, we dropped our bikes and run bags and swam the course at McKenzie Lake.  Due to the flooding in Calgary, the swim and bike courses had to be entirely rerouted just two weeks before the race date.  Any outsider looking in would never have known changes were made, and I commend Paul Anderson and everyone involved with Ironman 70.3 Calgary for their flawless work to make this race happen.  Especially the Facebook communication.  It was truly outstanding.

Saturday afternoon was spent enjoying the hotel's hot tub and relaxing in our room Facebook chatting with friends back home and watching Entertainment Tonight.  (Royal Baby news is big in Canada!)  For dinner, we went to Redwater Rustic Grille where I had salmon with potatoes and asparagus.  I'm not a huge pasta carbo-load fan, and having eaten salmon before some previous races and long rides, I've found that it tends to work well for me.  Steph and Amanda each had the bison burger and declared it the best burger they've ever had.  Calgarians, be sure to check this place out!
With our swim and dry clothes bags packed, we were in bed with lights off at 9 pm.  Steph's rule.  I wasn't super tired but knew resting would help so I did some meditative breathing and probably fell asleep by 10 pm.  I did wake up a few times throughout the night worrying that I had overslept, but in all, I had a pretty decent long night of sleep.  Thanks for enforcing the strict bed time, Steph!

Race day started at the bright and chipper time of 5 am.  We were suited up and out of the hotel by 5:40 am and at T1 by 6:10 am.  Nutrition-wise, I managed to eat half a bagel with peanut butter, a PowerBar and one packet of Honey Stinger chews.  I also finished a bottle of Gatorade.  We did our bodymarking, finished T1 needs, put on our wetsuits and headed to the lake.

The Swim

Before we even begin to talk about the swim, I give you the now-mandatory pre-race wetsuit shot. You're welcome :)
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Three chipper Cycle-Logic Racing Team members!
At 7:05 am, the age group women were off on the 1.2 mile swim.  I should have attempted to go out in the front of the pack because I got stuck on the heels of some slower swimmers.  Lesson learned. The lake was nice but for some reason my stomach was uneasy so I was a bit unsettled during the swim.  It seemed everyone had some trouble with the buoys as I saw several people way off course. But overall, my stroke felt fine and I eventually settled into a pack and a groove.  I definitely could have held my pace for another loop, which is good news for Ironman Canada.  Not my most favorite course, nor my fastest, but good enough!
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Couldn't wait to get my cap and goggles off!
Split Time: 34:06* (8/42) 

*The fastest girl in my age group came in at 33:04.  I am so curious to know if I had her and the others in the water and if my transition time (try putting arm warmers on when you're wet) slowed me down or whether I was that far behind on the swim.  I should have gone out in front and really pushed it.  Next time...

The BIke

As you can see from the elevation chart above, the bike course for Calgary was quite hilly, especially the first 35km.  This was a main motivator for me to register as it would be great hill practice for Whistler.  In T1, I spent a little extra time getting ready as I had to put on my arm warmers and dry off a bit more but then I was on my way.  I settled into my aerobars rather quickly and liked having a loop of a neighborhood to get into my groove before hitting the highway.

Really, there is one word to describe this course: COLD.  The weather was 8 degrees C (47 degrees F) so riding into wind while soaking wet was not a ton of fun.  I wore my tri suit + arm warmers and really was wishing I had some toe covers for my shoes.  I literally did not feel my feet due to numbness the entire 90km which was a bit interesting.

The course did live up to it's hill expectations, which I appreciated.  I feel like I am getting stronger climbing and am managing my downhills.  For those that have followed my cycling this year, you know that riding downhill is very hard for me.  With my vertigo, I get extremely anxious going down steep hills at high speeds.  Each downhill is a huge internal battle for me, and I've started talking out loud to myself to get myself through them.  While it may seem crazy, it does work.  So I am sticking with it!

Overall, I know that I need to be more aggressive on the bike.  While I clocked a time that is seven minutes faster than Great White North, I know I am stronger on the bike.  I need to get more comfortable passing people and just go for it.  I know I have it in me.  While I might be in survival mode for Ironman Canada, I'm already looking forward to another Half to really push my legs.

Nutrition-wise, I drank three bottles of Gatorade, ate a PowerBar and one packet of Honey Stinger chews.  I was happy with my efforts here and felt that I took in enough calories for myself that day.
Split Time: 3:20.13 (32/42)

The Run

Coming into T2 was the most interesting transition of my life.  I had no feeling in my feet or my fingers from the cold and was SO thankful for the volunteer that racked my bike, dumped my bag and helped me put on and tie my tennis shoes.  I stumbled over to the porta-potty (a good sign that I was hydrating well) and then set out on the run!

Let me tell you, running on numb feet is an experience!  I was literally looking down to make sure I was putting one foot in front of the other.  I took it out fast, clocking an 8:30 mile, knowing I needed to find my groove and settle into a pace.  I decided to once again walk through each aid station to drink a sports drink/water and I am very happy with my decision to do so.

The course, which was an out-and-back around a reservoir, was also quite hilly at times, and I power walked each steep uphill.  I knew that speed would be about the same as my run speed anyways, and it was a mental savior.  At around mile 5, I realized I still hadn't regained feeling on my right foot.  In fact, my entire right leg was pins and needles for all 13.1 miles.  It didn't hurt to run on, but was an odd sensation.  I actually stopped twice to take off my shoe and slam my foot on the ground in an attempt to regain some feeling but with no luck.  I started getting a bit more nervous about it (as I had been having some ankle/leg problems) and debating seeking out some medical help, but I decided to just get myself to the finish and worry about it then.

I picked up the pace for the last three miles and all things considered, felt quite strong.  My lower back was aching from climbing hills and I still had no feeling in my right leg, but I was passing a lot of people and smiling.  I didn't struggle with any cramping (a HUGE fear of mine) and was really pleased with my run efforts especially considering a slow transition and stopping twice for a few minutes.  
Split Time: 2:05.32 (26/42)
I was so happy to cross the finish line and see my friends cheering me in!  Super fast Steph placed second in our age group (missing first by a mere 36 seconds!) and qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Vegas in early September.  We grabbed some food, changed our clothes, headed to the beer truck and waited for the awards ceremony before making the trek back to Edmonton to head out for a celebratory dinner with our guys.  So proud of Steph!

Overall, I thought Ironman 70.3 Calgary was a great race and I would definitely do it again.  The volunteers were fantastic and the spectator support, especially on parts of the run course, was super fun.  And the finishers medal that doubles as a belt buckle?  Only in Calgary ;)

As for doing two Half Ironmans in three weeks, with a gran fondo and 185km tour in between? Honestly, it was fantastic.  Keeping my training and racing volume high has boded well for me. Knock on wood, my body has responded well as I have focused on sleep, rest and clean eating when not racking up the miles.  Here's hoping it can hang on for another three weeks.  The most important three yet!

And last but not least, thank you all again for your support along this crazy journey.  I love getting your motivational texts and messages and knowing that you're cheering for me really pushes me through on race day.  You've all inspired me for one reason or another, and I hope I am helping inspire you to go for you dreams.  It's true that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.
Overall Time: 5:59.42 (27/42)
 
 
Hello friends! Today I bring you a blog takeover from my Canadian friend and training partner, Steph.  A five-time Ironman, 8-time 70.3 Ironman, 70.3 World Championships Qualifier and winner of a few 80km, 100km and 125km ultramarathons (seriously, I could dedicate twenty blog posts to her amazing accomplishments), she's one of the main reasons I'm working hard and accomplishing my Ironman goals this year while having a lot of FUN doing so.  
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Steph and I somewhat delirious (or just hangry) after the 2013 Great White North Half Ironman.
Since many of you know me well, Steph thought it would be fun to give you a Canadian perspective on the new-and-improved Julie as a triathlete.  Without further ado, take it away, Steph!
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Julie Mason (right) the world’s most calm & collected triathlete on race day, examining the swim course.
Although her writing doesn’t try to hide any pre-race anxiety, it certainly comes across that Julie Mason is a calm, cool and collected triathlete racer. This blog takeover is an attempt to show Julie from a the perspective of a co-racer and the humour of Julie’s self-admitted Type-A personality under the pressure of a race that she never expected to do in the first place, and that for every other racer standing at the start line, there is a back-story of worry, anxiety and self-doubt that they had to conquer to get there in the first place.

When I first met Julie, I remember talking casually to her and telling her that I thought anyone could and should do an Ironman. ”It’s not that hard,” I said. “I mean to finish, anyone can do it.”  For someone who had spent time in the past training for a Half Ironman and having illness steal that dream from them, I’m sure Julie wasn’t very impressed with my laissez-faire attitude towards it all. But instead of seeing the negative, ever-positive Julie cast her doubt aside and later on that month signed up for Ironman.

Enter a GChat conversation from January 30th 2013:

Julie: so this leads me into my next question.  which i think is me losing my mind.

Steph: oh yes.  i'm waiting.  impatiently.

Julie: do you think i could pull off a full ironman in august?  

Steph: anyone can do an ironman.  at anytime.

Julie: that quickly?

Steph: they are easy.  they really are easy.

Julie: that is YOU talking, lol.

Steph: now if you would have asked "do you think i could do a 12 hour ironman" then i would say no, but 14 to 16 hour...no problem and you get to walk half of the run even.

Julie: yeah i just want to finish.  finish well enough, but finish.

Steph: swimming is easy.

Julie: yes agreed :)

This attitude of thinking through self-doubt, thinking the logic doesn’t make sense, and just going for it, is the Julie Mason – Canadian Version that I know. This same thing happened for Ironman 70.3 Calgary; Julie signed up pretty quickly (and just one week in advance of the race) after some gentle nudging and we were on our way!

Enter a Facebook chat from Sunday July 31st 2013:

Julie: hahaha. i am looking at calgary now. i am tempted, just not sure about the $ and i don't want to overdo it. that's moreso my concern, ha.

Steph: oh you won't over do it. that's just a myth.

Julie: i have been seeing and watching all of the course updates.

Steph: really?

Julie: 7 am sunday start. i lied, 7:05 wave for us.

Steph: (thinking: she said us. she is so in!)

Despite this, ‘ahh let’s just go for it attitude’ there remains an essential part of Julie in pre-race jitters, like every triathlete. Because Ironman 70.3 Calgary was a girls-only trip, sharing a room with Julie gave me plenty of gems. Allow me to present to you: First Hand Facts about Julie Mason - Lessons from Ironman 70.3 Calgary

  1. Julie needs a plan. Do not rush her. 
  2. Rushing Julie makes her forgot her PowerBars - and she ONLY eats the chocolate kind.
  3. Julie can hide anxiety beyond well and will apologize a lot, but you will still check every gas station for PowerBars.  She has super powers to make you do this :)
  4. Julie must not be late or close to late for any race - suggest it and watch the tension build.
  5. Julie is competitive. Very competitive. Soon she will be the fastest woman out of the water. Yet she will also graciously offer to let you draft her - if you can keep up. 

Watch out world, Julie is a focused triathlete and great athlete and once that go-for-it-anyway attitude completely takes over from the doubt and logic she will be unstoppable!  I’ve seen this on our swims, runs and rides and can’t wait to see her go for it on Ironman Canada race day!
 
 
I'm quickly becoming a big fan of winding down the week with a run in the river valley.  So when my friends Steph and Cheryl were planning a 30km post-work run on Friday, I was down.

The girls started early and got in six or so miles before I met up with them to rack up ten myself. We were having a great run and all was going swimmingly until we got caught in what I would say was Edmonton's worst out-of-nowhere hailstorm yet this summer.  I only wish we had cameras on us because between three girls and three pups, we were quite the sight!  In fact, I am still laughing about the extent we went to in order to protect the dogs, so maybe a mock photo is necessary!  
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Picture this. With wind. And myself and Cheryl under a bridge guarding Hailey, with Steph laying on top of Keira and Coaly under a tree. (Credit: sketchfu.com)
On Sunday, Shaun and I were up bright and early for the 2013 Tour de'l Alberta.  With 6-7 hours of biking on my Ironman training schedule, I thought this 185km ride would be a great way to spend the day and get some solid training time in my seat.  

The tour began in Morinville, a town north of Edmonton, and meandered us all around the countryside.  As you can see, the views were just terrible.  And major props to the organizing committee who put together this outstanding course map - one of the best I've ever seen!
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Canola fields have never looked better!
There were seven rest stops along the route and we decided to stop at each, minus the final one as it was just 10km from the finish.  This was a great way to break up the ride and take in some much needed calories in the form of gummy bears, chips and a local specialty: meat pie!
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Gummies!
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The infamous meat pie!
I was wearing my Garmin but kept forgetting to start and stop it with the rest stops, and I think it could tell my frustration was brewing so it just decided to run out of battery and die.  So I'm sorry that I don't have any official stats for you.  Maybe more pretty photos will make up for that!
Since the course was predominantly flat, I'm going to say that we finished our 185km in about six hours riding time.  And I'm so glad that Shaun's back held up because it was super fun 'putting some sugar on it' for the final 30km and passing quite a few riders before crossing the finish line together.
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Our first straight century ride together in the books!
We re-fueled Sunday night with some well-earned (and full of gluten) beer and pizza.  It was worth it.

And then this happened.
Nothing like signing up for my second Half Ironman just one week before race day!  File that one under: Things I Never Thought I Would Do.  

Just three hours away, it will be great to use this race as another extension of training for my big race day.  The bike course features lots of hills - one of the toughest parts of Ironman Canada - and I know some distance off a hilly bike course for my legs will be a good test.  So while I'm not going to completely slack off during the race, I am going to be smart and focus on working some things out for Ironman Canada.  Plus, a ton of my friends are going and so it will be super fun!

And on that note, I'm off for a run in the river valley!  T-5 weeks until showtime!
 
 
On Saturday, I rode in my first gran fondo.  And what is a gran fondo you might ask?  Well, a gran fondo, also known as a cyclosportive, or simply sportive, is a short to long distance, organized, mass-participation cycling event, that is often an annual occurrence.

I had registered for the Highwood Pass Gran Fondo which looked quite challenging as it would take us over the highest paved road in Alberta.  Unfortunately, a good portion of the road was damaged during the floods so we were re-routed from Cline River to Rocky Mountain House.  I was bummed to miss out on a lot of climbing as I know I need this training for Ironman, but was happy to still have a route to ride nonetheless. 
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Don't let the elevation chart fool you. There were still some tough climbs!
Our group ventured out to Nordegg Friday evening and stayed at a friend's house there.  We awoke to some frigid temps on Saturday - yikes!  Isn't it summer here in Alberta?!
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Nothing like freezing temps to get you pumped for a day of cycling!
With our arm warmers, windbreakers, leg warmers and shoe covers on, we drove into Cline River to get ready for the day.  The start time was pushed back 30 minutes so we had some extra time to get our bikes ready and then did our best to hang around in the sun to warm up.
I decided to ride my tri bike versus my road bike since it's more important for me at the moment to get in mileage on the bike I plan to ride for Ironman.  Just six short weeks left to get as comfortable on this baby as possible!
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It may be cold, but it's still shockingly beautiful.
At 9:30 am, we took off on our 136km venture to Rocky Mountain House.  Since our friends are all super fast, Shaun and I promised to stick together at a more 'comfortable' pace.  
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Terrible view #1 of Abraham Lake
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Terrible view #2 of Abraham Lake
Jumping to nutrition, before the race I managed to consume a chocolate PowerBar, one banana and a few sips of coffee.  I have a very hard time eating first thing in the morning but knew I needed calories for the ride.  On the course, there were four checkpoints.  We stopped at checkpoint one to drop our leg warmers and jackets and then again at checkpoint three to refuel a bit.  By this point - 85km I believe - I was starving, so I ate another PowerBar, banana, part of a turkey wrap and pretzels.  We stopped one last time at checkpoint four so Shaun could stretch his back and I ate a packet of Honey Stinger energy chews then.  I drank three bottles of Gatorade and one bottle of water and managed to stay fairly hydrated.

With our stops included, we finished the ride in five hours and forty-five minutes.  With this being my second-longest ride ever (Banff-Jasper being my longest yet) I was quite pleased with my efforts and happy to get in the mileage.  
Maybe someday I'll be as good as my friend and training partner, Steph.  Girlfriend WON the Monarcha de Montagna (i.e. the rider with the fastest time to the top of the climb at 39km) and the coveted polka dot jersey and also managed to crush all of us other females on the course, finishing the ride in three hours and thirty minutes.  Oh yeah, and my friend and other training partner Cheryl came in second at a smoking three hours and forty-five minutes.  I need some of THEIR Gatorade! 
Overall, the gran fondo was a fun experience.  I would definitely ride in another one and maybe even focus on trying to be a bit more competitive.  But right now it's all about hills and mileage for me with my final weeks of Ironman training.  I have a feeling the gran fondo won't be going anywhere :)
 
 
My first Half Ironman is officially in the books!  And now that I've had a few days to physically and mentally recover, I'm ready to share my experience with you!  (Apologies in advance for the length, but thanks for bearing with me!)

Leading up to race day, I did my best to have a smart week.  I got a massage, did some deep stretching with a trainer, ate smart and slept as much as possible.  I did a good bit of running around (and some light open water swimming) the day before the race, and finished the day with a meal consisting of salmon, quinoa and a mixed greens salad.  I hydrated with too much G2 and water to mention and called it a night at 9 pm, finally falling asleep around 11 pm.

On race morning, I set my alarm for 4:15 am and managed to drag myself out of bed at 4:30 am.  I wasn't tired nor too nervous and made some gluten-free toast with coconut oil and coffee to take in the car with me.  We set off around 5:15 am and after picking up our friend Cheryl, made it to Stony Plain around 6:15 am.  I unloaded my gear, finished my transition setup, made the all-important trip to the porta-potty, ate a PowerBar, drank a G2, ate a package of Honey Stinger energy chews and lined up on the beach for the start of the race.  I knew I may have trouble getting in enough calories later, so I figured the more I could take in early on, the better.
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Wetsuits. So sexy! Obligatory pre-race shot with some of my training buddies!

The Swim

Before I knew it, the beep sounded and off we ran into the water!  This was a mass start for 900 people (which I'm still questioning) so I did my best to get to the front of the pack since the swim is where I'm most comfortable.  After some elbows and kicks, I found a group to stay with and just focused on turnover and steady breathing.  I didn't have any problem with sighting and even managed to draft off a male swimmer for quite a while.  Before I knew it, we were back at the beach and I clocked an under-30 minute swim.  (After discussing with lots of people, it appears the swim course was probably short, but I'll take it.)

Coming out of the water was a bit rough for me (as expected) with my vertigo; I was quite dizzy but before I knew it the amazing wetsuit strippers were there to save the day!  They asked me if I wanted help, I said yes, they shouted "butt to the ground!", and the next thing I knew my wetsuit was off and I was running to my bike.  It was awesome, and I'd like to give them a belated virtual hug.

PS - if you want to see a really funny swim photo of me, check out the official site here.

Split Time: 31:01 (1:34/100m) 
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You can't see the first buoy because it was wayyyy down yonder around the bend in the lake.

The Bike

Backing up to T1, once the wetsuit was off and I was at my bike, I quickly put on my helmet, sunglasses, socks and shoes.  I threw my cap, goggles and wetsuit into my 'wet bag' (the race organizers then collected these and brought them to the finish line for us) and took my bike off the rack and ran over to the clip-in line.  My original plan was to eat a PowerBar at this time (i.e. get it in my mouth) since I'm not yet good at handling food on my bike but I couldn't stomach it, so I started to ride and didn't have any regrets about that.

The bike course was two loops with an initial starting point on the Yellowhead, one of Alberta's busiest highways.  We were riding only 7km on this road, but between tractor trailers in the lane next to me and bike bottles flying off the bikes back at me, I was glad to get into town and then onto the steady, rolling range roads.

I had ridden the course previously (I highly recommend everyone do this if you have the chance) so I knew what to expect.  I was most nervous about mechanical issues with my bike, shifting my gears and drafting penalties so I know I was more conservative on the bike than I needed to be.  I was planning to stop at aid stations to take in nutrition, but ended up not having any problems drinking my Gatorade from my bottle between my aerobars and eating a PowerBar and package of Honey Stinger energy chews from my BentoBox.  

Halfway through each loop, I passed Shaun and the pups and our shop owner Rich which really energized me!  It was so fun to see them and give them a thumbs up and a smile to let them know I was feeling good!
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Climbing a hill from Coaly's perspective.
One area of this race for which the organizers should be commended is the volunteers on the bike course.  Simply put, they were outstanding.  They did a great job with traffic and did not stop clapping or cheering at all.  I was riding with a smile on my face the entire time thanks to them!

Split Time: 3:27.15 (26.1km/hour avg)

The Run

Coming off the bike, I didn't really know how I would be feeling.  I hadn't done a ton of brick workouts but I do know it typically takes my legs a solid mile or two to feel warmed up and in the groove on any given training run or race.  In transition, I was quickly directed to my run bag containing my shoes, extra socks and hat.  I racked my bike and sat down to change my shoes.  I also decided to spend the extra 20 seconds changing my socks because I have one pair I love to run in and I thought mentally it may make a difference.  I stuffed a packet of Honey Stingers in my jersey and off I went.  Well, not too far.  I did stop to use the first port-a-potty I saw.  (Hey, I wasn't going to win this thing, so I at least wanted to be comfortable.)

I made the decision from the start of the run to walk through each aid station to consume a mix of water and Ironman Perform. While this is definitely reflected in my run time, I think it was the smart thing to do.

The run course was also two loops, and a portion of each loop was on a trail through neighborhoods.  I loved the trail portion of the run.  It was distracting and also where Shaun and the pups had stationed themselves so I was able to see them four times!  And yes, I stopped twice to say hello and get some licks.  (Again, not winning, might as well run happy!)
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My favorite photo from the race. Love from two of my biggest fans & run training buddies!
My legs took a little longer than expected to warm up, namely my right achilles.  My right leg below my knee felt stiff as a board for the first four or so miles.  It was frustrating, but I managed a 9:15/9:30 pace and just told myself to keep moving forward.  I didn't have any cramping issues (thank goodness!) and overall was pleased with where my body was at since I feel my running has been the least consistent part of my training recently.

It poured rain twice during the run, and other than the soggy shoes I was left with, I must say I didn't mind it at all.  (It made me think back to all of my Pittsburgh Half Marathons in the rain!)  At mile 10, my stomach reminded me that it needed fuel so I ate my packet of Honey Stingers.  

By this point, the race was almost done and I couldn't believe it.  Here I was, about to finish (and finish strong!) my first Half Ironman!  Something I had dreamed about for years and stayed committed to even in tough times.  The next thing I knew, I was crying.  And I'm talking full-on waterfall tears.  (Thank goodness for sunglasses!)  I couldn't control my emotions; I was so overwhelmed and proud of what I was about to accomplish.

With my tears ceased, I ran into the finish chute and crossed the line.  Completely forgetting to look at my time but just beaming as I saw my friends and training buddies waiting for me.  My medal was placed around my neck and I told them all that I felt good.  I grabbed some water and a handful of pretzels along with my finisher's shirt and found Shaun and the babes.  I had done it!

Split Time: 2:13.02 (6:19/km average)
Overall Time: 6:11.17 

Overall, I was pleased with my time but now wish I would have pushed for an under-6 hour race. Although I need to remind myself that this was my first HIM and there's something to be said for that, which is sometimes a challenge when you're training with fast gals that come in at 4:54 and 5:08, respectively :)  I definitely learned what my body could handle (in a good way) and where I can improve for IM Canada.  I feel good about my swim and know that if I stay in the water a couple times per week from now through race day, I'll be strong there.  I need to ride more hills and focus on a faster cadence while in my aerobars.  And I need to run more.  Between bricks, long runs and temp runs, I have my work cut out for me there, but know I will be OK on race day if I train smart.  T-minus 6.5 weeks...

A Special Thanks

There are so many people I need to thank for my success on race day, especially Shaun.  Without his support, I never would have crossed the finish line last weekend.  While moving to Canada was a sacrifice for me to some extent, it has created this opportunity for me to pursue a dream.  And Shaun has supported this dream 110% to which I am beyond thankful.  From the endless training hours (many of which I've made him participate in) to the 'we can't do that because I have a race' line and the questionable food he has seen on his plate some days, he has never questioned or doubted me. And for that I am so grateful to have an amazing husband and best friend in life.  And of course my Cycle-Logic training pals/Edmonton family.  They've made me step outside my comfort zone and have taught me that anything is possible with some determination, good friends, hard work and maybe a new tri bike, right Rich?!  And last but not least, all of my friends and family back 'home'. Your virtual support and texts and Facebook messages light up my life.  You have no idea how much they all mean to me.  And I hope you'll keep sending them, especially through August 25 :)

And now's the part where I tell you that you too can do this!  Yes, the 'if you can dream it, you can do it' line may be a little cheesy.  But it's the truth.  Sure you will have to sacrifice and there will be plenty of days during which you'll want to throw in the towel, but I promise you, it is FUN and it is WORTH IT.  Surround yourself with the right people in life and you can accomplish anything.  

As my favorite quote goes: that which does not kill you, only makes you stronger.  Preach it.