Monday, March 16, 2015

A guest blog post by Michelle!

As many of you know, Sunday was Michelle's very first triathlon all by herself! Your first is always special, and I'm so pleased I was a small part of it. I didn't want to write much about it because it's her experience not mine, but mentioned she could be a guest blogger if she wanted. Next morning, this text was in my email. Take it away Michelle!

There aren’t many people on earth who can tell me “where to go” and “how to get there” and have me keep coming back for more directions.  Keith is one of those people.

Keith, thank you very much for the generous gift of your time throughout the winter as my swim coach!  Only months ago I couldn’t swim but I took adult learn to swim lessons and stuck with them because of a long weekend swim with your analysis, drills and encouragement. The Talisman 10-mile Triathlon was perfectly timed the weekend after my last swim lesson and I just swam, biked and ran in my first triathlon.  You were a fabulous personal cheerleader on race day too!  :)

So… how did it go?

The day before > I pumped up my tires and did a short ride and a run in my gear, making sure everything fit and nothing chafed, switching out a piece or two that felt restrictive.  Richelle from Tri It helped me find this outfit that fit. On my test run, I turned my ankle but it seemed fine… until 11 p.m. when the throbbing woke me up.  I searched everywhere but couldn’t find a tensor bandage so pulled on a CEP compression sleeve, tied an ice block to my ankle with a scarf, took an ibuprofen and elevated it on a pillow until the morning.  I often have a restless sleep before a race but I don’t sweat the small stuff, immerse myself in the exciting race day ambiance of the event and carry on.  By morning, the ankle was fine.

Race day setup > I woke up to a sweet good luck email from Amy and had toast & PB.  Keith and I arrived early at Talisman Centre and dropped off my bike.  I got my body markings done and we headed to the pool for a warmup swim.  I only swam for about 20 minutes, then hit the hot tub and changed into my tri outfit (Louis Garneau shorts a 2XU top and a Moving Comfort bra).  Next I headed to walk the route and familiarize myself with the transitions through the swim, bike, and run areas.  For extra peace of mind, I wrote how many swim laps, bike kms, and run laps were needed for the race on my hand with a sharpie.  I was in the last group of racers (heat four) so once heat two had cleared out of the bike area, volunteers helped set up my bike on the Tacx trainer.

It took a bit to get it set for a “2” incline, then I had about 10 minutes to get back to the pool before the race started.  Keith reminded me to leave my bike in a lower gear so I could get spinning faster right off the bat.

Swim > Lucky for me, there was only one other racer (Isabella) in my lane so we wished each other good luck agreed to split the lane so we could each stick to our own side and just swim at our own pace.

I did a quick" re-warmup almost lap" and then it was time to get back to the wall to start.  After the first 25m, I stopped to check my timing chip that was velcroed around my wee ankles.  The strap wrapped twice around my ankles and had slipped but wasn’t coming off so I kept going.  Somewhere on lap two, I sucked back a mouthful of water and had to stop to cough about ten times so I could breathe and carry on.  Isabella called out “you got this!”

I just tried to keep moving and do push turns when I could, stopping for a few breaths from time to time or switching to backstroke a couple of times for extra air.  I kept my cool, felt good and steady, and didn’t feel like I was going anerobic.  It felt like I had a good balance between cardio and strength and couldn’t go any faster without getting out of breath.  I could see Keith standing along the edge of the pool with the other spectators.  The water in this pool is a bit cooler than in the training pool but that’s perfect for race day. With one lap to go, the volunteer called out to me to let me know and I glanced down to the lap counter on my finger to confirm I was on track at 9 laps.  One more to go.  Before I knew it the race was over and it was time to climb out.  I can spring out of the training pool on my own but this one was deeper and a kind volunteer gave me a hand up.

T1 > I ran down the roped-off carpeted transition path through the training room and down the hallway to Gym 1 and quickly spotted my bike thanks to the fluorescent ribbon I tied to the brake cables.  Sitting down felt awkward so I stood up again to pull on my super-cool heat mouldable carbon-fibre Bont bike shoes (from Kijiji). I tried to do a quick blot of the most soaking wet parts but it made no difference.  It would have been good to have one towel under the bike to catch drips and another to step on to dry my feet off before putting my bike shoes on.

Bike > I clipped in my left foot easily, swung my right foot over the saddle and clipped in on the second try to my Trek Madone women-specific bike (bought second-hand).  A few sips of Ultima electolyte drink from my water bottle and two small squeezes of some salted caramel gu in the box on my crossbar were all I needed. I was happy I stashed a lip balm and something to wipe the sweat from my face in there too.

I had the best cheering crew!  Richelle,  Rose, Maddy, Keith, the volunteers chatted nearby and reminded me to keep up my cadence.  Jordan was there with an enormous lens on his camera. (Making us do this. Making us!) Photo credit Jordan Brydon.

 I was feeling my legs but wasn’t breathing very hard and I knew I had to save energy for the run. As soon as my bike computer displayed 12.5 km I dismounted on the left side of my bike and got myself over to the right side where my running shoes were.  (Note to self: next time organize stuff behind the bike or under the bike and gear down to spin faster so I use more cardio and less leg power.  Figure out how to work harder on the trainer to build leg power.)

T2 > Thanks to the velcro on my bike shoes, they came off quickly but I got a cramp in my left calf pulling on my Altra 3sum running shoes.  I willed myself to relax and it went away.  (Note to self, next time loosen the elastic Yankz laces a bit more.)  Next was a quick run across the Gym to the stairs… (STAIRS!!!) up to the running track above.  Keith had warned me that my legs might feel rubbery coming off the bike and to hang on to the handrail in the stairwell.  I had observed some very stiff, rubbery legs going up those stairs but thankfully my legs felt good enough to run up the stairs.

Run > At the top of the stairs, a volunteer pointed me in the counter-clockwise direction and I stuck to the inside “fast” track passing lots of people.  I held back a bit as I wasn’t really sure about the pacing for all three sports.  A volunteer handed out elastic bands every 5 laps to help us keep track.  My lap counter on my finger came in handy for the run too.

I was feeling good, waved at Keith and picked up the pace in lap 14 and sprinted the final lap.   I heard Richelle yell out “Go Michelle! from below.”  (Note to self.  The run is my strongest area, let it all out here!).  I ended up with a little blood on my left heel, which is weird because I have run sockless in these shoes on my 12 km RUNcommute home with no issues.  The only thing I changed was tightening the laces so next time I will leave the laces loose and wear socks in both my bike and run shoes.

Post race >  We looked at the times and I was very excited to have done my swim ten minutes faster than a month ago!  I was shocked by how fast my run was as I didn’t feel like I was actually running that fast.  Sometimes, ditching the technology and pushing myself by feel gets the best results.  Awards were given for oldest and youngest athletes (11-years old!) as well as for the rubber-band volunteer and best bike and run "pain faces” (LOL).  The staff and volunteers at this event were amazing, organized, encouraging, friendly, helpful and reassuring.

Post-shower In the locker room I chatted with Isabella about her race and told her the story of how I had just learned to swim over the winter.  She was going to tell her sister and try to get her to learn to swim.  She asked if I was feeling proud and I thought about it.  I wasn’t feeling that beat-your-chest-like-a gorilla-pride and I think I was feeling more grateful for all the support I received and to have been able to do this event at all.

I found Keith in the bike area and we brought everything up stairs, enjoyed coffee and a snack, chatted about the race and future plans and chatted with the super rubber-band volunteer about his races too.  I gave Keith a card and a DIY sewing project microfibre towel with sharks (it sort of matches his swim trunks) on it to thank him for being my coach.  He really didn’t have to do that but I’m so grateful he did.  Keith took swim video and when I watch it, it seems like I’m swimming in slow motion.  I can see my head popping up and a funny reach with bent hand.  I will study it more and try to make adjustments… and just swim more.

Inspiration > It’s all around me.  Running with Keith through the winter last year while training for two ultras planted the seed that some day there might be a new and different challenge waiting for me.  Keith’s Ironman finisher’s smile greets us at the top of this blog with every visit.  Obviously some of the triathlon awesomeness around me inspired me.  My friend Maria did her first full Ironman last summer and I stayed up until midnight to watch her cross the finish line on the live video feed.  Another friend Jenn (breast-cancer survivor) finished the 2013 IMYYC 70.3 in spite of having her bib taken from her when she didn’t make the cutoff time.  That’s determination.  She’s back for more this year and she’s going to rock it.  Amy and Leana make triathlon training sound humanly possible.  Sophia (kidney transplant recipient) did a duathlon a couple of years ago and planted that seed.  Last summer I trained for the duathlon part of the 2014 Strathmore Women’s Triathlon.  Instead of the duathlon, I ended up joining my friend Deb in the team triathlon relay where she did the swim and I filled in with the bike & run.  Our team placed first.  I was inspired by the ladies of all abilities in that race and started to dream of learning to swim.  Last summer I volunteered at IMYYC 2014 as a banner girl and learned what it means to be Ironstruck.  Wowza.  I held the banner for the elites as they crossed the finish line, then biked home after my volunteer shift through the age-groupers sweating it out in the hot sun on the run and I started to think that there might be a place for me at the back of the pack if only I could swim.

Determination > In July bought myself a chlorine-resistant suit, swim cap, goggles, nose plug and earplugs.  I took them with me on a summer trip and thought I would try them out at the hotel pool but, sadly in spite of watching YouTube videos on how to put on a swim cap, I felt so dorky, and so intimidated.  I remembered how awkward I felt showing up for my learn to run clinic three years ago and figured I would work past the fear but the water in the outdoor pool felt SO cold and there were too many people around watching for me to attempt flailing around.  I stayed in the pool for less than a minute and then ran into the hot tub to warm up as per my usual performance. Fail.

I knew what I wanted but didn’t know how to approach the fear or get into any kind of a routine. A few weeks later Keith offered to have me tag along on one of his regular Friday morning swims. I think he said we would leave at 4 a.m. and at that point I was willing to go at any time just to get started and get over my fears of feeling awkward.  Keith gently, encouraged me (without laughing… how is that possible?) from being afraid to put my face in the water to working on drills with a flutter board and pull buoy until I had enough confidence to sign up for swim lessons which started in October.  I took Adult Learn To Swim Level 2 lessons and repeated then twice.  Then Level 3, repeated twice.  There were a couple of times I was tempted to throw in the towel when I hit a plateau, or was sore all over and exhausted, or felt like hubby was annoyed with my training schedule, or like it was all too much effort and nobody cared anyway.  Then Keith would text me asking if I was still coming swimming (how could I say no?) and that kept me on track.  (So it's MY fault??? :-) ed)

Rewards > Over the winter, I got stronger and started to see mini lat muscles in my back.  (No not latte muscles!).  Just this week, there was the hint of a bicep on my stringy muppet arms.  Progress.  Arm muscles should definitely help with swimming, oui?  ;)  I have been called short, petite, small, thin, skinny and weak but I prefer the term  “concentrated!"  I can definitely say that this spring, I was thrilled to discover that winter swimming has improved my core strength, cardio and breathing for fast running, and helped keep up my leg strength for biking.

Looking forward > This year Keith and I are doing IMYYC 70.3 as a team relay.  There’s no way I’m ready for a swim like that… but Keith is!  I’ll do the bike and run.  I look forward to continuing to swim, bike and run!  I blame Keith.  Thanks eh. ;) (You are very welcome! KC)


  1. This was so great I had to read it twice! The progress you've made in swimming is nothing short of incredible-you stumbled in the beginning, but worked hard to overcome your fears. I've been cheering for you all along, my friend. I knew you could do it and you're just getting started :) ! I hope that someday I'll be able to join you in ANY kind of race-it would be a lot of fun.

    ps. It's so great of you, Keith, to help us fellow triathletes out with your help and advice-thank you!!

    1. You're welcome! But it's like learning anything new, you have to keep trying and not be afraid of looking like a dork in the process. Everybody has a first time at every activity.

    2. Thanks so much Amy for cheering me along as I stumbled and wondered which way was up. Thanks for lending me gear, training dates and chatting along the way too! Once you get your knee surgery done, you'll be stronger and more determined than ever back to racing for fun. I appreciate your support more than you know :)

  2. Congratulations, Michelle!! As someone who has just taken up swimming this year (and struggling, but determined), your story is inspiring! Seems you've been bitten by the tri bug - and I get the feeling there will be no stopping you!! Again, well done :)

    1. Yay that you've started swimming! The Bridgewater pool is beautiful; it would be SUCH a hardship to have to swim there. All I can say is stick with it. Like with running, you're much better with swimming x short swims in a week, rather than 1 swim the same time as the others put together. There are no end of video on line, and if you ask nice, I'm sure one of the life guards or a buddy will video you swimming. That is the single best tool to improve. Nobody quite believes what their stroke is doing till they see it on video.
      Next time I'm back we'll have to do a swim and a run!

    2. Thanks Janet! Congratulations on taking up swimming this year too. It's scary and daunting but fun, relaxing and rewarding if you stick with it. I look forward to following YOUR journey now too. Good luck in your new adventures!


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