Toronto Triathlon Festival: Race Recap

Jenna Triathlon 1I have been looking forward to the Toronto Triathlon Festival all winter and I can’t believe the race has already come and gone. Despite some fear of a cancelled swim and a predicted thunderstorm, the day was absolutely perfect and the race went off without a hitch.

I rode my bike down to Ontario Place early on Sunday morning to get in line before transition opened. We were let into the transition area around 8:00am and setting up was quick and easy. The very kind Triathlon Ontario Officials walking around checked to make sure everyone’s bike was racked properly and gave us a full hour to prep our area and warm-up before the start of the race. Around 9:15 we made our way down to the swim start at the Ontario Place West Channel and took a short dip into the water to acclimatize ourselves to the 16 degree lake temperature. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad! Compared to the 10 degree water we swam in last week, this felt like a hot tub.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a “natural” swimmer, and 365 days ago, I could not swim more than 25m without stopping. Getting into the lake, hearing the horn go off, and then seeing 750m in front of me, was a bit overwhelming and I did get a bit panicky towards the beginning of the swim. It took me awhile to find my breathing pattern (which it always does) and I kept worrying that I would bump into someone or get kicked in the face so I stayed towards the right and the back of the pack. Unfortunately that wasn’t the best strategy as I actually swam about 100m more than I should have (due to my inability to hug corners and swim in a straight line), but 20 minutes later my 750m swim was done and I was out of the water and onto the bike.

Jenna Triathlon 2

Photo Credit: Tribe Fitness

The bike was pretty freakin’ cool. We got to ride along the Gardiner Expressway, with cars zooming past us in the adjacent lane (separated by a concrete barrier – totally safe!) With my slow swim, I had a lot of time to make up on the bike and I really did try my best to keep my pace as close to 30km/hour as I could. I knew this was a pace I could maintain. It was pretty windy up on the Gardiner and my legs were feeling the burn. I did pass a lot of people on the bike, but I don’t think I really caught up to too many other people in my age group. They were too far gone and I just couldn’t make up the lost time. I ended the bike in 41:29, pedalling an average of 28.9km/hour. I love the bike, but I know I need time to get more comfortable with speed and riding with my clip-in pedals. Of course this will only come in time, but I am excited to put in the work. My huge thighs and gigantic calf muscles have got to work to my advantage somehow, right?

Once I was off the bike, I made a quick transition into my running shoes and sprinted towards the run course. Not going to lie, my legs felt like lead during the first kilometre or so and I had no idea how fast I was going, but I was going as fast as I could! When I saw the first kilometre pass by in 5:24, I got a little burst of confidence and just decided to grind it out and maintain my pace. I was hurting a lot at this point, but as the run went on, things felt smoother and a bit “easier.” It just took me a while to find my stride. Around the 3k mark, I caught up with my friend Amber who was doing her first triathlon. I knew we could maintain around the same pace to the finish, so I ran up beside her, told her we were going to maintain a 5:30 or faster pace, and we conquered the last two kilometres to the finish line side by side. It was really cool coming through the finish chute together and crossing the finish line smiling, knowing that we’d both accomplished something great! My final finish time was 1:34:15.

Jenna Amber

Photo credit: Tribe Fitness

I didn’t have a specific goal time for TTF, just to finish stronger and faster that my last triathlon and I accomplished that. My swim was 13 seconds/100m faster, my bike was 1 minute and 18 seconds faster, and my run was 2 minutes and 45 seconds faster than IronGirl last year. All in all, this was a great start to the Triathlon season and I am looking forward to working on my speed in the lead up to my next race on August 9th. I know I still have a lot of work to do, especially on the swim, but triathlon training really is so much fun and with three sports it never gets boring, so I am really looking forward to what lies ahead.

One thing I know I need to work on in addition to all the swimming, biking and running I’ll be doing is my mental game. I can’t tell you how many times during yesterday’s race I had a negative thought. It started when I looked up from the swim start and saw how far the first buoys were and actually questioned whether I could swim that far (when I have swam more than twice that distance in a pool). It continued on the bike when I was passed by a woman who looked about 60, riding a much nicer bike than me and I wondered if I was just too slow to compete. And yes, it happened on the run too during the first kilometre when I was afraid I would have to stop to walk because my legs felt so tired and my chest was so heavy. But I finished that swim, I eventually caught up to that woman on the much nicer bike, and I completed my run without stopping. So what was the point of all my negative thinking? Just wasted energy. Imagine what I could have accomplished if I never gave those thoughts any power?

I know I probably end off most of my posts with this sentiment, but I am constantly humbled and inspired every time I finish a race wanting more out of myself. In today’s society we are so used to seeing instant results and we are bombarded on a daily basis with images of people’s successes, but rarely of their failures or struggles. If you made it this far, you can know that I finished 29th out of 30th in my age group during the swim portion of yesterday’s race. I’m disappointed because I don’t think this accurately represents all the hours of swim training I put in this winter and spring, but I also know that it means that I am still a new swimmer and I have a lot to learn. Swimming has been such an incredible learning experience for me, and although at times it has been frustrating, I love that I have learned this new skill as an adult. It’s humbling to know that although you have come so far, there is still far to go, and I wouldn’t trade this lesson for anything. Can’t wait to see how I improve in another year!

Photo credit: Tribe Fitness

Photo credit: Tribe Fitness

P.S – Huge shout out to Mark from Tribe Fitness for taking all these awesome photos! If you don’t know Tribe, check them out at http://TribeFitness.ca! From beginners to experienced athletes, there’s a place for everyone at Tribe. Plus, we’re a lot of FUN!

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5k Revolution: Toronto Women’s Run 5k Race Recap

No matter how many races you run, there will always View event: http://www.zoomphoto.ca/event/19636/be a handful that stick out. Whether it’s the first time you conquer a new distance, a race where you set a PB, or one where you just have a damn good time, some races will always remain fresh in our hearts and in our minds.

On Sunday, I had one of those races.

I had been looking forward to the Toronto Women’s Run 5k at Sunnybrook Park since I signed up last month. This was a late addition to my race calendar, but the Toronto Women’s Run Series will always hold a special place in my heart as I did my very first race ever back with them in 2011.

My goal on Sunday was to run a 5k PB (sub-24 minutes) and see how hard I could push myself in this new distance. I’ve only ever raced 2 other 5ks before, but there is something about the short and quick burn of the 5k that I love. I absolutely hate how I feel when I’m running them, but immediately after crossing the finish line I want to do one again to see if I can go faster! To be honest, I almost gave up a few times during Sunday’s 5k, but I never let my legs stop moving and ended up with a big surprise at the finish line.

The race was pretty small, 762 runners in the 5k, and we were divided into two corrals, sub-30 and over 30 minutes. I tried to line up as close to the front as I could and just let er’ rip as soon as the gun went off. My strategy was “fade from the front” and to just go as fast as I could for as long as I could and slow down towards the end if I needed to. Well, my first kilometre was 4:27 (I’ve never done that before) and it was a bit fast for me. I tried to pull the pace back, but I was already in a world of pain so I thought I might as well keep going as hard as I can to get this thing over with as quickly as I can! That’s the goal, right?

As you can see from my race photos, I was not a happy View event: http://www.zoomphoto.ca/event/19636/camper, but as my good friend Christa says “pretty stops when the gun goes off.” Yes, it sure does! I pushed through the remaining 4 kilometres in 4:49, 4:48, 5:03, and 4:59. You can see where I paid for that ambitious 4:27…I have never been so thankful to see a finish line in my life and I grabbed my medal, took some water and headed straight for the finish chute to find an open area to catch my breath. I often get really anxious when I finish a hard run so I just needed to get out of the crowd and into my own space.

After I picked up my post-race treat bag, including a delicious Awake Chocolate Bar, and a tiny sample of Starbucks Iced Coffee (damn, that tasted good), I walked over to the results board to see I had finished sub-25 in 24:41 and that landed me in 5th place in my 30-34 age group. I was feeling pretty stoked about that. Although my time was about 30 seconds off my PB, I was pleased with my race and hungry to train throughout the summer to improve that time in the fall!

As I made my way back to the course to cheer on some of my friends who were still coming in, I realized something…if any of the top 3 women overall were also in my age group, that would bump me up in my standings since you can’t win awards for overall placing and age group placing. No double dipping. I quickly opened my Sportstats app to see that the top two women were in my 30-34 age group. I got really excited and nervous and mentioned to my boyfriend that I might win an age group award! I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I made my way over to the awards stage to listen to the awards ceremony.

Sure enough, when the 30-34 age group category TO Women's Run With Plaquewas announced, I came in 3rd out of 104 runners! After I picked up my award and posed for some pictures I immediately texted my friends, family and Coach who all replied with some variation of “Are you serious?” and “You got to be kidding me!” Yes, even I was (and still am) shocked, but what a cool experience it was to win that award! Crossing that finish line is a moment I will never, ever forget and I am so happy that I didn’t give up, even when I really, really wanted to.

After a very disappointing marathon debut and a physical and mental struggle with recovery, this race (and AG award) were everything I needed to get my head back into the game. When I chose my race outfit for the 5k, I wanted to channel my inner Lauren Fleshman with my favourite green Oiselle Flyte Tank because I’ve been a long-time Fan Girl and really love the funny and poignant pieces she writes about why the 5k is freaking awesome. She presents a view that we don’t hear a lot, but one that gives credit and strength to the women (and men) who excel at short distances, and most importantly LOVE to run them.

I can say with all my heart and soul, that I LOVED running that 5k. Did it hurt? Yes. Was it hard? Yes. Did I love it? Absolutely. Do I want to do it again? As soon as possible! I think I’ve found a strength in running I didn’t know I had and a place that I want to keep exploring. Although my initial plan for this year was to build up to another long distance race in the fall, I realize that that’s not what I want to do. Right now I want to focus on getting stronger, getting faster, and seeing how much I can improve my 5k and 10k times over the next 6 months. As Lauren Fleshamn, a master of the distance says:“It’s time for a 5-K Revolution!”

I’m on board.

Around the Bay Race Review

Around the Bay finally happened and it was pretty damn awesome! After what felt like an endless winter of training, the first race of my 2015 season has come and gone and I couldn’t be more happy with the results. Having never run the Around the Bay before, I set myself a goal of 3 hours for this race. To me, this seemed achievable within’ my fitness level, yet also challenging due to the hilly nature of the course. My game plan was 6:20 pace for the first 10K, 5:50 pace for the second 10K, and then hammer it home for the last 10K. Luckily, my running buddies Jay and Christa thought this was a good plan too so I had some good company to run with. Also, we look pretty damn badass in the photo below, don’t we. #DreamTeam

jjc

Jay, Christa and I at the start of Around the Bay. Photo Credit: Thomas Sapiano

The first 10K flew by like nothing. We were laughing, chatting, and the kilometre markers just flew by. Even on the hills, we never lost our momentum and only stopped once to shed some layers around the 9K mark because it turned out to be much warmer than we thought it would be! Our pace for the first 10K was 6:17/km so we were right on track. We picked it up for the second 10K and I started to “feel it” around the 16K mark, but we stayed strong, and managed to average a 5:52/km pace for this portion.

Around the 21K mark of the course, we started to encounter some big rolling hills in Burlington. Jay made the smart decision for us to keep our pace a bit slower, and then try to pick it up once we were on flat ground again. I’m not going to lie, those hills took a lot out of my legs, but never once did we stop or slow down. We kept our effort strong and our legs turning and we finally hit some flat ground around the 26K mark. This was the point in the race when I should have been picking up the pace, but I really wasn’t looking at my watch and I was passing tons of people, so I felt like I was going faster than I was. I’m not going to lie, this part really hurt and even though I was instructed to not stop at any water stations, I did. Instead of kicking it up to a 5:30/km pace, I averaged 5:51/km for my final 10K and snuck in just under the 3-hour mark with a 2:59:43 final time. If you want to see my triumphant finish, check out the video below:

 

All in all, I am proud of my performance at Around the Bay and am itching to get out on May 3rd and run a full 42.2K at the Mississauga Marathon. I’ll probably execute a similar pacing strategy, but pick up the pace a bit, with the goal of finishing in 4 hours or less. When I think back to those last kilometres at Around the Bay, I could have dug deeper and I could have gone further into the “pain cave”, but that’s all part of learning what we’re capable of. If you had asked me if I could run a 3-hour 30K a year ago, my answer would most definitely have been no. But after a year of solid training with Coach Brock and some big work on my mental game, I am a different person that I was 365 days ago.

After two recovery days, it’s back to the grind today. Next up is the MEC 10K on April 12th and then the Mississauga Marathon on May 3rd. After that, it’s all triathlon baby and I can’t wait to see how a whole winter of swim/bike/run training translates out on the race course!

tribe atb

Love my Tribe. Couldn’t do this without them. Photo Credit: Tribe Fitness

Sub 2 at Run for the Grapes Half Marathon

IMG_20140928_105841_019While this year has been jam-packed with races, new distances, and PBs, my number one goal in 2014 was to run a sub-2 hour half-marathon. Even more important than running my first marathon (which I will be doing in 27 days!) was to achieve this goal and on Sunday I did it! I raced the Run for the Grapes Half Marathon in St. Catharines and ran with my boyfriend Nick the entire way. After three pretty significant hills in the final 500 meter stretch, we crossed the finish line holding hands in 1:58:33. Cheesy, I know but in an effort to get a frame-worthy finish line photo, we went all out.

Now to give you some perspective, let’s talk numbers. 4 months ago I ran my slowest half-marathon ever at the Mississauga Half-Marathon in 2:38:46. Now, to be fair I was coming off 2 months of no running due to a freak allergy attack I had back in February, so to say I wasn’t bringing my A-Game to that race would be an understatement. If we forget about that race, my second fastest half-marathon was the Niagara Falls Women’s Half Marathon in 2012 where I ran 2:13:44 on virtually no training and was left immobile for 3 days after the race (please don’t try this.) Last year I ran 2:14:45 at the Seawheeze Half-Marathon and that was probably my best 21.1K performance prior to this one as I trained for it, raced it strong, and recovered really well. My goal for Seawheeze was 2:15, so I was very happy with my result.  I’m sharing these numbers to show that progress doesn’t happen overnight. It can take months, or in my case, years to reach a certain goal, and there will be roadblocks along the way, but each run you complete and each step you take will bring you closer to that goal.

Despite being a ball of nerves on Saturday night, I woke up feeling good and rested on Sunday morning, ate my pre-race breakfast of oatmeal, strawberries, pumpkin seeds, topped with a bit of maple syrup and had a relaxing drive to St. Catharines with Nick and my parents. The race was a small one, only 220 people in the half-marathon, so packet pick-up was quick, easy and stress-free. After we got our race kits, we went for a quick warm-up run around the block and did some strides in the parking lot. The race started at 9am and we settled into a comfortable pace right away. There were a couple hills within’ the first 1-2 kilometres, but we took them easy to make sure we didn’t tire ourselves out too early. The majority of the race was run on country roads with very few people around. The scenery was nice, but there were significant gaps between people and I feel like we ran most of the race on our own, passing people every kilometre or so. I wonder if we would have run faster if there had been a pace bunny or a faster group of people we could have run with.

Around half-way things started to hurt. I knew that this race was going to hurt, but I always forget how much running fast hurts between races! Around 13K or so I remember saying to Nick “this is really hard” and he just nodded his head and we kept running. Nick did a really great job of helping me keep up the pace, always running just a little bit ahead of me so that I couldn’t really back down or ease up. I’m grateful he did this because there were a significant number of hills in this race that I wasn’t expecting, so it made all the difference that we were running above goal pace because those hills did slow us down. By 18K, I knew we were going to do it. We had 20 minutes left to run 3 kilometres and I wasn’t going to let us dip below 5:40/km.  Around 19K I decided to give us both a pep talk and I said to Nick “We’re going to do this. We’re going sub freakin’ 2 and we’re going to do it because of all the early morning runs and bike rides and swims we did this summer. We worked so hard to get here and we’re going to reach our goal!” Nick told me later that he was feeling a bit unsure of himself at that point, but my pep talk kept him focused. Yeah!

IMG_20140928_105841_030During the last kilometre we passed about 3 or 4 people as we made our way up not 1, not 2, but 3 hills. It was tough seeing people stop to walk, and I yelled out to one guy “these are some pretty ill-placed hills, eh?” and he nodded in agreement. Once the last hill was over, it was a 100m dash to the finish line! There wasn’t really anyone around us when we finished and we could see my family clearly right at the finish line. I don’t know if a managed a smile or not as we crossed the line, but I know that I looked like I gave everything I had to cross that line in under 2 hours. Finishing this race was a culmination of all the training I’ve done this summer, and most importantly, it was a triumph of mental strength. Running without anxiety is still a fairly new experience for me, and to say that I got through a whole summer of training and racing without it, is the best thing ever.  I know that in the future there will be other races where I will run faster than 1:58:33, or further than 21.1 kilometres but this race will always hold a special place in my heart.

I’m A Triathlete: IronGirl Canada Race Recap

Jenna IronGirl SwimThree days ago I completed a triathlon. 10 weeks ago this wasn’t in the plan. I had no intentions or desires to complete a triathlon until my training buddies from Tribe Fitness (ahem, Jenna and Emily) brought up the idea of doing IronGirl Canada. IronGirl is a race put on by the IronMan brand and it’s a Sprint Triathlon (500m swim, 20k bike, 5k run). After signing up for the race I had two very important things to do: learn to swim and get a bike!

Getting a bike was easy. I went to Giant Bikes in Toronto and purchased my lovely and fast Giant LIV Avail 3! Riding a road bike for the first time was scary, I’ll admit it. My first official ride on the bike had me riding an average of 15k/hr; on Sunday at the Triathlon I completed my 20k in 42:47, with an average of 28k/hr. Swimming was a bit more tricky, but thanks to my awesome group of training buddies and FREE pool access at the Regent Park Pool, I was able to get into the water at least twice per week for lane swim. I remember the first time I swam, I was completely out of breath after one lap, or 25m. On Sunday I completed my 500m swim in 14:47, without stopping! Yeah! The “easy” part was the run, although it didn’t feel so easy after 20k on the bike, but I completed that in 29:04 for a grand total triathlon time of 1:31:35.Jenna IronGirl Run

Going into the race, I told myself that my goal was “just to finish” at least under two hours, but secretly I wanted to finish well. Training for this triathlon has been the most challenging and rewarding thing I’ve ever done and it’s only in these past 10 weeks that I’ve truly come to feel like an athlete. Coming off the bike, I knew I was in a good spot to finish around 1 hour 30 minutes because I had completed the combined swim/bike portion in one hour. My goal for the run was to complete it in around 27 minutes, but I didn’t really anticipate how heavy and tired my legs would feel, and even running at a 5:40 pace for the first half of the run felt like the slowest and hardest pace ever. One thing I would do differently for my next triathlon is practice more bike/run brick workouts so that I can get used to running on fatigued legs and learn how to push the pace. My run was pretty uneventful until I wiped out at 4k on the trail portion of the race. We were on completely flat ground, I was running with a lot of room around me, but I think I must have just tripped on something and went crashing to the ground. The wind was knocked out of me for a few seconds, but I dusted my dirty self off and picked it up for the last kilometre and finished the run in 29:04.

Jenna IronGirl BikeThe amazing thing about this race is I finished within a minute of my fellow Tribe Fitness training buddies, showing that we really pushed each other to excel and that we had all competed to the best of our abilities. I am SO  incredibly proud of Jenna, Emily, Kate, Ali, and Alisha, and I could never have done this without them.  I feel so incredibly lucky to belong to such a wonderful community of athletes. The Tribe Fitness men were also out in full force, cheering us on and giving high fives from the sidelines. Best cheer section in the race, if I do say so myself. My two sisters also joined me for the race and they totally rocked their first triathlons, too! How cool is it that my parents can say they have daughters who are triathletes?

A big THANK YOU must also go out to my Coach Brock Armstrong of Skywalker Fitness!  I started training with Brock late last year, and although the 2014 training year started off pretty rough with my allergy attack, the gains I’ve made as an athlete would never have happened without his expertise, understanding, and support. From my very first email to him about this “crazy triathlon idea” to the hundreds of questions that followed, this never could have happened without him.

I know that training and racing changes you, and the way I feel after completing IronGirl is so incredibly amazing that I wish every person could feel what I feel. I feel like I can do anything. If you asked me to sign up to do an IronMan 70.3 in 2016, I would! Well, that’s the plan at least. If any of my friends, seriously any of them, came up to me and asked me if they could do a triathlon in six months or a year, I would say YES because I truly believe that anyone can do this. I know it sounds cliche, but achieving “crazy goals” is possible. With the right friends, the right training plan, the right cheerleaders/support team, and an iron will to succeed, you can do anything.

Jenna IronGirl Friends