Looking back on some of the beauty and humour of training for an off-road triathlon and Ironman 703. while traveling with the Crankworx World Tour.
Bike Packing in New Zealand on the Te Iringa Track.
Yesterday, I completed my first off-road half-marathon: The Salomon Valley to Peak. It was a trail race from Whistler Village up 1800+ meters to the Peak and back down to Roundhouse Lodge. Despite my active nerves about jumping up from the 10k distance that I raced as part of the run portion of my off-road triathlon in July, I was capable and ready. I owe my physical readiness to my coach Jen Segger, epic adventures with friends and training time with my solid race crew, Marissa, Liz and Emma.
But, I owe my mental readiness to four major things:
1. Positive Mind-Set
I'm a huge fan of an endurance sports podcast based in New Zealand called Fitter Radio. One of the hosts, Bevan Mackinnon did a segment on easing pre-race anxiety. One of his suggestions was to make sure that leading up to the race start, a racer should only use positive words associated with how they were feeling pre-event. For example, the week leading up to the Salomon Valley to Peak trail race I used the word "excited" instead of nervous when people asked me how I felt about the big task at hand. At first I didn't believe my own words, but pretty soon - I actually was excited. I couldn't wait to get up on race day and have the whole morning (and early afternoon) ahead of me to test my limits on Whistler's trails.
2. Get a Course Preview
Knowing what's in store for me on race day is so important for my mental preparation. I'd never race an enduro on my mountain bike without pre-riding the course, so unsurprisingly with the technical nature of running on trails, I like to be able to plan ahead. Ideally, braking a big course like this down into sections and timing a gentle dry run gives me some great goals to work towards. Previewing the course lets me know when to go full gas or reel it back in, according to what's ahead.
3. Develop Those Skills
Local coaching legend, Munny Munroe leads a series of pre-race clinics that introduce racers to the skill that's required for trail running. For instance, there is an art to downhill running (difficult to master - hilarious to watch). The skill level required reminds me of mountain biking and having that in your mental toolkit can often make or break your race. This isn't like road running. It's almost an entirely different sport. If you can't find a skills clinic then join a local trail running group.
4. Going the Distance
Prior to committing to this trail race I had never gone the proposed total distance, flat uphill or otherwise. to ease my anxiety, my dear friend and biking teammate on Team Arbutus went for a low-key trail run with me that included part of the course but didn't gain much elevation. In fact, we lost a ton of elevation. By opting to cut out at the far point of High Note trail and run down Singing Pass we still did 21+ kilometers without blowing out my legs and that gave me the confidence that my body could do it. I was also able to test out my hydration pack and fueling strategy. Win-Win!
If trail running and racing is your jam, I can't recommend trying a bigger distance or vertical challenge highly enough. Keep in mind that getting there isn't always about the physical training. Making the leap to racing a further distance off-road requires racers to have a strong mental game layered in on top of a training plan. Until next time, happy trails!
A few days ago I completed my first olympic distance triathlon. It was just my style, no roads involved. Off-Road Triathlons, also known as Cross Triathlons or by brand name, XTERRAs are a special breed of race. These races take competitors through a 1.5k swim with a quick transition into a 24k mountain bike ride, followed by a 9k trail run.
The race I participated in was in Victoria, BC, in and around Durrance Lake. The course has a reputation of being one of the most technically challenging on the circuit, perfect for a mountain biker from Whistler like me. As I transitioned from swim to bike to run, last Sunday, pushing my body harder than I'd ever done before, I thought about the countless hours of training I had undergone in the last 8 months. I decided I now know three precious things about training about Off-Road Triathlons, that I wish I could tell "past me" at the start of all that training.
First, there will be some high highs and really low lows.
Training is an experiment. There were times when I felt strong and capable but those typically only came out in the taper and on race day. With such a high volume of training I mostly felt sore and tired. But, it gets better and it's worth it. There were also a few occasions when I pushed myself too hard and physically couldn't motivate. Dear "Past Me", be prepared - training is hard work.
Secondly, food counts.
When I first started racing bikes, I wasn't really concerned with what I ate and when, but it really does make a difference. Depending on the effort and the food I've packed, I like to take in a gel or shot block every 30-45 minutes. The only times that I've been in a really dark place (read: wanted to end my training session or pull out of a race) I can blame my poor nutrition timing. I can't say that I have this completely dialed, yet. A work in progress!
Make a triathlon training plan for yourself, and stick to it.
I'm lucky enough to have found a an awesome coach (shout out to Jen Segger) and digital performance dashboard (Training Peaks) to keep me excited about recording workouts and sticking to a plan. Hello accountability and gamification! Pairing that with all the other fitness and social ride/swim/run groups and I could have easily done double the training and burnt out months ago. I found my success stemmed from sticking to Jen's plan and only adding in group training when it matched up with my prescribed workouts. That being said, there are huge benefits from group training so I forced myself out of my solo comfort zone once or twice a week to train with local legends like Munny Munro or Kristian Manietta.
If you're considering the wonderful, challenge of training for an off-road triathlon I have one last piece of advice, do it. Needless to say, I may not have brought home any trophies but the bond with my training buddies Liz, Marissa & Emma and the powerful new understanding of my limits will keep me coming back to compete year after year.
A few weeks ago, I found myself wrapped up in some sweet, sweet data that the fine folks of TrailForks (a great trail map resource) rolled out in the form of Heat Maps. I uncovered some of the busiest trails in Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and the Sea to Sky as a whole. As a member of Team Arbutus, a grassroots mountain bike race team based in Whistler, BC, we are encouraged to share our adventures and biking thoughts on the Arbutus Routes shop blog: Tails From the Trails. The blog is a perfect avenue to shed some light on the new TrailForks feature. Check out the full Arbutus post here.
Trading in the Fat Wheels: 6 Must Haves for Your First Cycle Tour Weekend
Recently, four brave, bike-loving friends of mine assembled to join me on a weekend cycle touring trip. We set out at first light from Whistler, BC on a Saturday morning and returned 3 days later after 3 ferry crossings, 480 kilometers of coastal roads and some staggering elevation gain/loss. For most of us, we preferred our views from the crest of loam-clad trails, but the call of adventure and draw of spending all day on a bike (no matter what bike it was) prevailed.
Best. Decision. Ever.
So, if you’ve caught the bug to explore, here are my 5 must haves for your first weekend cycle trip:
- Take what you can pack in a Bike Frame Bag & Handle Bar Bag: The lighter your bike the longer you can ride (added weight = more fatigue). We opted to stay in hostels and only took what we could fit
- Chamois Butter: This little gem is a standalone. Even if it sounds weird, buy it. Lather it on every morning. You’ll thank me. Mind the menthol – the cool minty fresh feeling isn’t for everyone.
- Electronics: Bring all the necessary cables to keep your phone, camera and GPS watch charged and a single wall mount so you can switch back and forth when on ferries or at the hostel/hotel.
- Change of clothes: Yes, one change of clothes. To keep it light I packed flip flops, loose comfortable pants & top plus a light weight jacket for those ferry rides and road side snack breaks.
- Split the effort: If you’re going with multiple riders (and you should, it’s more fun!), split up tools, spare tubes between the group. This way you’re traveling light and still have enough to support each other between any emergency bike shop stops.
- Food & Water: I found that two bottles kept me hydrated between food stops. Bring electrolyte tabs as they take up less space than powder and stock up on gels/blocks/bars at the beginning of each day. In rural areas you may not have a chance to grab those short burst energy snacks. No food means no fuel.