Tag Archives: swimming

Four things I knew already, but forgot, before the Shawnigan 2014 triathlon

In descending order of importance, except for #6 Extra Bonus – you could just skip to that part right now if you wanted.

1. Endurance sport is all about mental toughness, and mental toughness is a skill borne of habit and routine.

All last year, and the year before that as a runner, and the year before that as a marathoner, back to 2009 and my first ever marathon, I have a week-long (or more) pre-race routine: each morning I wake up to “Love Like a Sunset” Parts 1 and 2 and visualize race day. I close my eyes and imagine the start, the middle, the end: the hurdles I’ll face; how I’ll overcome them because of my experience and training; how it will be tough, but I’ll come through it; how I’ll want to quit, but I won’t because the finish line is so sweet. And I visualize crossing the finish line triumphant.

Shawnigan triathlon swim start

Photo by Connie Walters-Dunwoody, all rights hers, used with permission

I didn’t do that this time. I think I was in denial. My unconscious thoughts were: I’m injured and have been slow to recover; I can’t do this whole race anyway; I can’t run (in fact I’ll probably need surgery before I can run again); I’ve gained weight; I’m slower even than usual; I’m shouldn’t take this too seriously because really, what am I doing out there in the first place?

My conscious thoughts were: I’ve been swimming like a dolphin; I don’t need to think about this; this is ‘only’ 500 metres; I don’t get to cross a finish line; it’s just a little swim in the lake; I’m an “old hand” at this; I don’t need to really think about it.

I didn’t even pack my gear until the morning I left for Shawnigan, though I had meant to pack the night before, then go for a little “shake out” bike ride Saturday morning before leaving.

As usual, race morning jitters hit me after breakfast race day, but this time worse than ever. Confession: I was almost in panic mode standing on the shore an hour and a half before my wave started, trying not to let it show as my relay team-mate Darcie and I watched the Trestle Challenge and Olympic distance racers embark on their swim. I posted a photo saying how nervous I was, but other than that I didn’t know how to calm myself down.

In hindsight a better course of action may have been to find a quiet place, dial up Phoenix on my phone, breathe deeply, and visualize myself swimming confidently through the cold water to a 10-minute swim split. Then do it again and again until it was time to get in the water.

2. Swimming is harder than it seems like it should be

I worked hard at swimming this winter, because it was pretty much the only thing I could do after I got off the crutches. Yet, my time for this 500 metre open water swim was, at 12 minutes, only 26 seconds faster than last year’s performance. I was confident I would make it in 10 minutes or less this year.

Tori peeking around other swimmers to mug for the camera

Photo by Connie Walters-Dunwoody; all rights hers, used with permission

I had a good warmup, which calmed my nerves. Then we stood on shore for 15 minutes waiting for my wave (the final wave) to start. I joked around with my teammates, and mugged for the camera a couple times, but I was shivering when we finally got in the water. Then the horn sounded, and I swam. I went out fast, trying to follow a speedy swimmer’s bubbles (the lovely Donna Morrisey actually), trying to see what it is like not to hang back, not to swim wide trying to avoid other swimmers.

I had no trouble being with the other swimmers, but I froze up 50m out from shore. I had gone out too fast; I wasn’t relaxed.

Full blown get me the f**k out of here panic.

Gasping for air, disoriented and thinking “I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” I stopped completely, floated in place and watched other swimmers pull away from me. Breathe. Breathe again. Sighted the first buoy. Told myself “I CAN do this. I’ve done it before, many times, in water colder than this. Get a grip, calm down and just swim. No-one cares if you win or not. No one even cares if you finish. No pressure. Just. Swim.”

So I did. At my own pace. To my surprise I aimed straight for the buoy and actually almost hit it. I rounded it, went straight for the next buoy and almost hit it too – no zig-zagging (my biggest problem last year.) I relaxed and tried to let go of expectations. I swam to within 3 steps of shore and exited the water, and then had trouble getting my wet suit off. Erg.

3. Leave the arm warmers off, or wear them under the wetsuit.

Tori in transition @1 swim to bike

Yeah, those arm warmers ain’t doing jack, and it took 150 seconds to put them on. Photo by Darcie Nolan-Davidson; all rights hers, used with permission.

It was a chilly, rainy day and I wondered how to get an extra layer on in transition for the bike. I rolled arm warmers like I roll my socks – all ready to unroll up my arms (or feet). But it took too long. I spent nearly 5 whole freaking minutes in T1, most of it trying to get arm warmers on wet arms. Gah.

Iron distance finisher and teammate, Coach Lindsey, told me later she just puts them on under her wetsuit – they dry as fast as a trisuit anyway. Double Gah.

4. It doesn’t f**king matter if it’s a bit chilly

I didn’t even need the arm warmers. I didn’t wear socks. I didn’t wear gloves. I didn’t even need sunscreen because it was cloudy. Transition could have been 2 and a half minutes, not 5, and it would not have mattered one little bit to my bike time. Racing is different from just being out for a ride. I’m working harder, I’m more focused.

5. Bonus: I love cycling

My bike split was 57:29, an average pace of 23.1 km/h on a rolling hills course; nearly 8 minutes slower than last year. I got passed by a hybrid AND a mountain bike at first! (I overtook them on the hills later…) And yet, I was happy with this performance. I only started cycling “for real” again about two or three weeks ago, getting off the tame, flat Galloping Goose trail to do the slightly more challenging waterfront-mid-peninsula routes I was doing regularly at this time last year. Heck, I had done a metric century ride in March last year leading up to triathlon season!

My physiotherapist still wants me to take it easy on the hills, and in truth I have no choice – I’m outta shape! But not as out of shape as I thought I was. I only had to ice my knee a little bit after I got home …

6. Extra bonus: Darcie is my hero

Tori, Darcie and Connie

Limp, Grunt, and Gasp. Selfie by Connie. Use with caution. 🙂

My team was called TriStars Limp, Grunt and Gasp. I was the Limp because of my knee injury, and Connie was the Gasp, because when she signed on to do the run portion of this relay team she was sick with a bad flu AND recovering from wrist surgery. Unfortunately, she had a coughing relapse a couple of weeks before the triathlon and couldn’t compete, so I ended up doing the swim and bike while Darcie – the Grunt – did the run.

Tori and Darcie

Tori and Darcie

But get this: Darcie was Grunt because six weeks before Shawnigan Triathlon she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. SIX WEEKS POST-PARTUM PEOPLE. If that’s not determination I don’t know what is. Baby Abby has one helluva superhero mom, don’cha think?

See you at the Victoria Subaru Sprint, Olympic and Half Ironman in June! I’ll be swimming the Olympic relay distance as with Peter and Connie as part of TriStars Team Scrambled Legs.

Note to racer #799 with the Aussie accent:

… did you get a timely ride back to the finish? Bad luck with that flat and no spare, sorry I couldn’t help you out more. ’Til next time!

Tori Tour De Victoria Finish

Are injuries inevitable?

Here we are again, back on the elliptical trainer. Possible meniscus tear; I’ve been “rehabbing” for weeks now. This is a new injury; I don’t usually have problems with my knees, but there it is.

It started in August. My triathlon season was over prematurely when my stepfather died suddenly and I flew to be with my mother, right before my last scheduled race of the season: the Self-Transcendance.

Not wanting my season to be over, and needing to burn off stress, I ran while I was in Saskatchewan: country roads, small town streets, and the amazing Devonian Pathway system in Regina, my old stomping grounds. I thought I could salvage my race season by signing up for the Goodlife Fitness Victoria Half Marathon in October.

Devonian Pathway in Wascana park.

Wascana Park near University of Regina

I was 12k into a gorgeous 15k run around Wascana Park when my knee suddenly started to hurt so much I hobbled 3k back to my car. I stayed off running for a couple of weeks, then tried unsuccessfuly to ease back in. I’ve been struggling with it ever since. That’s three months now!

I did an internet search of “Are triathlon injuries inevitable?” and got 13,800,000 hits. Make that running injuries and it’s 8,720,00 hits.

I take it the answer is yes.

For most people, injury is at some point inevitable. We go out too hard too fast, we pile on mileage instead of building up slowly, we ignore warning signs, we don’t cross-train and build up some core strength, we don’t stretch enough. I’m guilty on all counts.

Tori Tour De Victoria Finish

Finishing the Tour de Victoria 100k ride. The only time the sun came out that day.

In the midst of all this I hurt my back too. Anyone familiar with body mechanics could see these two were probably related. I was still trying to get in some running miles with a sore knee, and it was altering the way I ran, and my lower back paid for it. I managed to bike up Hurricane Ridge near Port Angeles, Washington with some friends in late August/early September; a gorgeous day, but I was in agony by the time I made it to the top. I completed the 100K event of the Ryder Hesjedal Tour de Victoria in September, in the pouring rain and wind, relatively pain-free under the care of my physiotherapist.

Since then I’ve been hard at work strengthening around my knee and core, and waiting to heal. However, I tried going hard swimming (because I couldn’t bike or run) and quickly added on mileage in the pool – then I strained my shoulder.

Injuries are only inevitable when you keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Matt, my physiotherapist, shook his head at me when I reported the shoulder injury. This is what made me really buckle down and start listening to him:

“You masters athletes and weekend warriors,” he said. “You think you can go hard all year round, and this is what happens. You know elite athletes take a few weeks completely off – do *nothing* – after their season ends, don’t you?”

Since then I’ve been a good girl, doing as I’m told, backing off completely. I’ve been granted some sanity-saving bike rides as I recover. I’ve learned some lessons:

Tori jumping on the Kinsol Trestle GIF

Jumping for joy because Life!

Yes, injuries are inevitable, when you try to be a superhero or keep up with the fitter, younger people on your team, or have something to prove. When you really tune in to your own body and only gradually push your limits, reaching only just beyond your grasp at any one time, they don’t have to be inevitable. Training, especially for endurance sports, is a cumulative, long-term enterprise. You can’t cram for it, you have to put in consistent effort.

And with that, I’m off to the pool to do my exercises and swim a modest 800 metres or so. Soon I’ll be back to my old, joyous self.

Photo credits:

Wascana Park by Tori Klassen available for sharing under CC-BY-SA license.

Tour de Victoria and “jumping” gif by Patrick Fisher, used with permission.


Six lessons learned from my first open water triathlon

Subaru Shawnigan Lake Triathlon race report

First off, my stats:

  • Swim time (500m): 12:26
  • T1: 4:48
  • Bike time (22km): 49:51
  • T2: 3:03
  • Run time (5km): 30:39
  • Total time: 1:40:45

Précis: Nerves!

I did everything I could to calm my nerves going into my first open-water-swim triathlon yesterday, the Shawnigan Lake Subaru Triathlon.

I entered the Sprint race because I thought I needed race experience heading into the Subaru Victoria Triathlon June 16, which will be my first Olympic Distance (1500m swim, 45km bike, 10k run).

I entered the Victoria Triathlon because I won an entry to a Subaru race as a prize at the Fort Street Beginner Tri back in April. See how this triathlon thing just – happens? At the start of the season I had only planned on two pool swim tris: the Fort Street Beginner Tri and the Tri of Compassion at the end of June.

I call it “sport creep.” When I take to a new sport, I just get sucked more and more into it: climbing, running, cycling, now triathlon.

Anyway – I was a jangle of nerves for 2 days prior to Shawnigan. I was worried about 3 things: swimming in open water with a bunch of other swimmers around, feeling dizzy and discombobulated in Transition #1 after getting out of the water, and getting a side stitch on the run after Transition #2 from the bike ride (that happened to me at the Beginner Tri).

So, to prepare, I got myself a wet suit and headed to the open water as much as I could in the last 2-3 weeks, also made it a point to do at least one bike-run brick workout each week. I think I managed more than that as a matter of fact.


Lesson #1: relax and trust your training

Achievement unlocked. 🙂

Shawnigan race start with Hazel and Bob

Go Tristars! Me, Hazel and Bob before our race started. I wear nose plugs to keep from sneezing and dripping when I get out of the water.

I knew I was prepared. It was just a matter of calming those damn butterflies in my stomach. So, instead of taking it easy at home Friday night, I took my own advice.

When I was a Political Science and Sociology teaching assistant I always told my students: “You can’t cram for a final exam in the humanities. If you’re not prepared the day before, you can’t pick it up in one evening. You’re as ready as you’re going to be. Just go out and have some fun the night before, don’t obsess about it; come home relatively early and get a good night’s sleep.”

I went out to a friend’s birthday party at the Argyle Attic and had a beer and some poutine Friday night. Saturday, I got a ticket for the pasta party and socialized with team mates. These all worked very well to put me in a good frame of mind before race day.

Sunday morning, I spent a few minutes visualizing my whole race from start to finish while listening to my race “anthem,” Love Like a Sunset Parts 1 and 2, by Phoenix. At race time, I was largely calm.

Lesson #2: be redundantly, excruciatingly early to set up transition area

Achievement still locked 🙁

However, because of the logistics of getting there, and the schizophrenic weather which had decided at the last minute to be rainy – leading me to question my gear and clothing choices – I found myself still futzing around (Dave, my old climbing buddy, would call it “ferkeling”) setting up my transition area when the race officials admonished all Sprint athletes to get into the swim area right away.

I lined up at the water not sure I had everything laid out, and I wasn’t the only one. I looked around for my teammate D, who had ridden up with me the previous day to drop off our bikes. She had been threatening to not show up because she hadn’t been open water swimming yet this season. I had threatened back that I would appropriate her nice new bike if she didn’t show up. She wasn’t there. “Hey – D isn’t here – new bike for me!” I joked to the others lined up. I took advantage of the swim warmup and felt better about things.

Lesson #3: know your strengths

Achievement still locked 🙁

The horn sounded, and we were off. I had seeded myself at the back because I judged myself a newbie.

But I was definitely a stronger swimmer than the ones I got behind and couldn’t pass because of lack of my own lack of skill, confidence, or tactical knowledge in open water. Some were doing the backstroke and criss-crossing in front of me (geez, I thought I couldn’t swim in a straight line), some were doing the breast stroke and frog-kicking (please new triathletes – don’t kick. Save your legs and your sister athlete’s face.)

Emerging from Lake Shawnigan after swim

Emerging from Lake Shawnigan after swim. I’m smiling because I’m just enjoying being dizzy.

At one point, in frustration, with 100 metres to go, I stopped, looked around and had a little discussion with myself: “You are DOING THIS. You are a triathlete. The good news is, you’re better than you thought. Relax, keep swimming and get on that bike!”

I completed the swim in a respectable 12:26 but I could have been under 10. I was smiling big-time in the photos but I was a bit dizzy and discombobulated heading into T1 – I’ve NEVER had that much trouble getting my wetsuit unzipped!


Lesson #4: make it so you don’t have to think at Transition area

Achievement still locked 🙁

I got to my bike and doffed my wetsuit in record time after finally finding the zipper pull – but the jacket I had planned (at the last rainy minute) to wear over my trisuit was not there. I had left it in my bag off to the side of the very crowded transition area. What to do? Go get it? Leave it? Also – my feet were wet and so was the towel I had left there to dry them off. Socks on wet feet? Would they dry by the time I got back for my run? How to keep my running shoes dry?

These are all questions that should NOT be answered while you’re in transition! My heart rate was up, I was dizzy and chilly from the swim, I had never done this before.

I decided to forget about the jacket, leave the socks in the running shoes with a bag over top of them, and wear the gloves I had managed to leave out. Ever tried to get full fingered cycling gloves onto wet hands?

“Just leave the gloves!” Someone shouted from outside the transition area. But they were already on. Shoes on, helmet and glasses on, then I was off on the bike portion.

In hindsight, I would have put my toe warmers on my bike shoes before I even left the house that morning, then the socks problem would have been solved already.


Lesson #5: in a Sprint, just ride like hell, it’s only 20 km or so

Achievement unlocked 🙂

I had ridden the bike course the week before with Garth (thanks Garth! I’m so glad we did that!) so I knew what to expect: rolling hills and potholes, with one steep but short uphill just on the other side of Shawnigan village. My aim was to hit a 25 km/h average pace.

Once my feet froze up (within 2kms), I decided the only way to keep the rest of me warm was to spin like hell and finish fast (for me anyway).

I was pleasantly surprised when D passed me not far into the bike. “Hey! You made it!” I said.

“Long story,” she called out. She had arrived on the shuttle 9 minutes before our start time and had an even more frantic time at transition then I did, getting into the water in the nick of time after our siren went off.

The bike portion ended up being the most fun part of the day. As I gained momentum I started passing people – going up hill even! All those Russ Hay’s Saturday rides paid off. Also – the stern lecture about no drafting echoed in my head whenever I found someone in my sights. I thought it would be easier to put on the gas and pass people rather than be accused of drafting and given a penalty or disqualified.

The motorists of Shawnigan Lake were very courteous and kept their distance and their patience was duly noted by this triathlete. You’re all very welcoming and forbearing – thanks for hosting this event in your town!

Before I knew it, I was headed into T2. I was so surprised it was over that fast I let out a big “Whoop! Whoop!” about 25 metres from the dismount line. I was so jazzed I ran my bike down into T2, in my bike shoes on frozen feet, passing people on the trail. I think I was trying to get some feeling in them before I started the run portion.


Lesson #6: Bricks are your friend.

Achievement partially unlocked

In my very first tri 18 years ago I got a painful side stitch going from bike to run. I remember someone at the time, a veteran triathlete who was volunteering at the race, running beside me and telling me to breathe in, expand my diaphragm and exhale slowly to try to get rid of it. It worked (but I still came in last) and I used that in my running career later on. I rarely had that problem in all my years of running, but when I did, it was after a long absence, and the breathing would help.

So when it happened at the Fort St Cycle Beginner Tri, I knew that continuous practice would get rid of it. Still, it’s not altogether gone and I was nervous about it coming back and slowing me down.

Running at ShawniganWhen I got up out of the T2 area and onto the trail, I felt it. “Cripes, here we go again.” I measured my breathing and tried to keep pace anyway. I thought I was crawling along at 7 or so minutes per km (I didn’t wear my Garmin), but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, not worrying about all those runners passing me. There seemed to be a lot of them though …

The side stitch was not severe and was gone by the time 1k mark passed. I still couldn’t feel my frozen feet though. I just hoped they wouldn’t hurt once I regained some warmth and feeling!

I turned around at the 2.5k mark and saw a lot of runners still behind me. The finish was about 2 km of all downhill – awesome for a strong showing in the photos! All our team did very well, with Garth, Owen and others setting personal bests, and others (who I don’t know – yet!) on the podium. When I got the results later I was shocked to find I was 26.5km/h average speed on the bike and 6:07 minutes/km on the run. They were just the times I was hoping for, and I guess I set a personal best too!

I had a great time, in spite of the rain and mud. It was a fabulous day. I’m definitely a triathlete now!


*all photos by awesome and beautiful teammate Connie Walters Dunwoody