Saturday, December 18, 2010

2010: A Triathlon Odyssey

To say it has been an interesting year would be an understatement! It has been quite a wild ride and blogging a recap is bound to be somewhat anti-climactic. So here goes....(insert theme music here)....2010: A Triathlon Odyssey.

2010 was about dreaming the impossible.

I dared to believe I could finished an Ironman. And then, for good measure, I had the absolute privilege and opportunity of being able to race in Kona. It isn't about winning, it is about dreaming the impossible, working hard and making it happen. And sometimes, those dreams are possible.

2010 was about doing things I swore I was never going to do again.

After 2009, I vowed never to run four marathons in one year yet here I am reflecting on 2010, realizing that I did it again. Damn those marathons for sneaking up on me. Cross my heart, 2011 will be the year of No Mary.

After crossing the line at IMC, I also vowed never, ever to do another Ironman. And, yet, 6 weeks later I was quite acutely aware of this vow as I lined up to do it again. I guess "never" has its limitations (especially with Kona on the line), but it still never ceases to amaze me how quickly humans can compartmentalize our experiences, forget the pain and suffering and lay it all on the line again.

2010 was about finding inspiration when the going got tough.

And when I speak of inspiration, I am not talking about superheroes or Chrissie Wellington. I owe a debt of gratitude to my family and my friends - were it not for them providing equal parts support, butt kicking and patience, it just would not have been the same. To Jeanne for being real, Mom and Dad for keeping me grounded, Jared for forcing me to do hill repeats, Coach Calvin for teaching me regimen, Jeremy for showing that fearlessness is good, Shane/Dave/Steve/Andrew/Gregg for provoking me to ride harder than I thought I could (damn you!), Greg & Tav for encouraging me to believe in myself and Hoz (as only an ultramarathoner can) for opening my eyes to the fact that we can go a long, long way if we hang in there. There are so many more people I am forgetting to mention here that influenced me so positively in training and in life...thank you so much.

2010 was about logging a lot of miles.

My GPS logs say that I ran 2,277 kilometres, rode 6,011 kilometres and swam 257 kilometres. In aggregate - 8,545 kilometres traveled on my own steam, well worth any number of Honey's donuts as reward I would think!

I raced two half-marathons, two open marathons, two half-ironmans, two ironmans, two mass rides, a trail half marathon relay, an olympic distance tri, my first 5k and a couple 10ks for good measure. That is a whole lotta GU consumed!

As 2010 fades away into the training logs and plans get drawn up for a new season, it is hard to imagine a year quite as amazing as this one has been.

2011, you have a lot to live up to.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Impromptu racing! Funky Munky hits the Marin Headlands.

Not *quite* ready to throw in the towel for the 2010 season, I entered the North Face Endurance Challenge marathon relay this weekend in Marin County, CA. I was traveling to San Francisco for work the following week and we knew a few others running the distance events at the North Face (50 miler + 50k). Turns out there were spots open for the marathon relay, hence Team Funky Munky was born.

There were of course a glitches. First, I haven't run trail for nearly three years. Next, the relay was actually a four person relay and since Funky Munky only had two members we had to run 2 laps apiece. Easy peasy, right? Oh yeah, and the last one, which was that I had not run further than 10k at glacial pace on flat, flat since the NYC marathon three weeks ago. Pffft.

The race is situated in the Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco. The course is fairly non-technical terrain sandwiched between the stunning vistas of the Pacific Ocean and Sausalito - we were told to expect five stars of scenery combined with five stars of elevation change!

The marathon relay was four 6.2 mile loops with a profile of one mile mildly rolling net downhill, loong three mile ascent (featuring 900 feet of wind-sucking elevation gain), sharp one mile descent, mildly rolling net uphill for the final mile. Our race plan was quite simple: run munky run! I would lead off, followed by Donovan for a second lap. He would decide at the end of the second lap whether to do two consecutive and I would either enter again at lap three, or pull in the anchor at lap 4.

There were about 40 relay teams and our initial observation of our competition was that they seemed quite fast. Many of the girls looked *tough* and trail-worthy, and lots of them were very seriously warming up before the race. Never mind that I was afraid of sucking wind on the ascent!

The start was VERY fast and I settled to the mid-back of the pack for the first section, which was mainly on the road. Most of the mixed teams had females starting, so there seemed to be about 20 girls in the starting pack, a good number of them blowing past me right away. I looked down and saw a 4:15/km on my GPS - my only thought was whoa, settle down, we gotta tow this thing uphill...this is NOT the time to go blasting out. And this gut reaction turned out to be exactly right. As soon as we hit the trail, the free ride on the downhill stopped. I quickly passed about 6 people whose momentum had totally faded.

It was not all easy cruising though. The hill REALLY sucked. A couple of very strong girls plowed past me at the bottom third and I couldn't even contemplate chasing. I ended up walk/running the top third of the hill (posting some very sexy 7:00/km splits). However, I also realized that no one was passing at the top...which meant everyone else was sucking as much as I was!

The top of the hill at the 4 mile mark featured some absolutely stunning vistas over Sausalito - one could not help but slow down to gawk a little. And then, since what comes up must come down, it was rock and roll time. The elevation gained over 3 miles uphill was lost over one mile downhill. This means one thing: WHEEEEEEE!!!!!! I figured I was about 3 or 4 back of the lead female and ran like a flying banshee, on the verge of being totally out of control. It was exhilarating. Bliss. Wind in my face. By the bottom of the hill, I was lead female. Totally wicked fun. :D

I beat Donovan's expectations of time by about 5 minutes and he was barely in place at the hand-off when I finished my loop. Munky One done. Munky Two, GO!

The course was fast and I knew Donovan would rip it way would he hold off so he could do two consecutive laps, it was just too much damned fun to let 'er rip on the downhill! 46 minutes later, Munky Two signaled that I would be jumping in as Munky Three - he would take a break and anchor.

Let's just say that it was a somewhat less-spunky Munky that took to the trails. We were in third place after Donovan's lap and I knew I was going to have trouble holding our place. My less-than-adequate training gave me what I deserved, as did some stomach cramps on the second ascent. There was more walking than running the second time up...but I did manage to save some WHEEEEE!!! for the downhill. Three minutes slower on the second lap. Still respectable. Go Munky Four!

Donovan lost a lot of spunk on his anchor lap...but we managed a 3:30 and a pretty decent 4th place finish. With 4000 feet of ascent over 44km and our handicap of 2 laps apiece, Funky Munky managed to be pretty OK for a couple of silly ol' road runners!

I give the North Face folks an A+ for a well-executed and organized event - it was a whole lotta fun from start to finish. The shuttle service from the city was quick and flawless (well, aside from the motion sickness induced by a school bus ride in the Marin headlands!), food and entertainment were plentiful, trails well marked and provisioned with volunteers, never mind the were fantastic sponsors (GU, Nuun, Gore-tex and of course, North Face). In true trail running style, the start was a little late and the course was actually a little long, but it was just too much fun to matter!

Friday, November 19, 2010

A lesson in persistence

Last January, I entered the ING New York City marathon with a guaranteed entry. I had always promised myself that I would run the NYC 26.2 on the caveat that I had to lottery! I had previously met the qualifying time but for one reason or another let it lapse, so when I met the standard in Arizona last January, I bucked up and entered NYC.

Of course, I had no idea that my training for the marathon would involve 2 x Ironman in the preceding 10 weeks and a mere 2 weeks of *training* for the marathon. In the days leading in to the race I had a pretty good idea that my performance would be somewhat less than optimal. I had no leg speed, no long pace runs and definitely was a little more than exhausted...of course that did not stop me from trying!

There were nearly 45,000 entrants to the race, organized in a very complicated system of bib colors, corrals and wave starts. We left downtown Manhattan at 5:15am to catch our coach (note BAA, I said COACH, not yellow school bus!) out to Staten Island. The first wave start was at 9:40am, so we had over four hours of time to kill in the makeshift village..and it was COLD!! The potties were plentiful, lots of hot coffee and because we arrived so early, we had no issue finding a somewhat warmer spot under a tent to sit and relax. As the crowds kept piling of the buses and piling into the start areas, it really made me appreciate how huge an event the race was. The biggest races I had participated in previously were Boston and the Nike Women's, each in the low 20,000's. NYC is just absolute semi-controlled chaos.

We were permitted into the "start" corrals at 8:10, and I was relieved (no pun intended) to discover that there were potties in the corrals. Unlike Boston, in New York you spend a long, long time in the corral. At about 9:00 we started to move forward to the the start on the Verrazano Narrows bridge. I had drawn short straw and was in the starting corral UNDER the bridge. So you know that dramatic start that you see in all the publications with the masses coming across the bridge? Missed that. I got to be a troll under the bridge instead...and the start was decidedly less than epic.

We didn't even really know that the gun had gone off except for the surge and I was surprised to find that the corrals had actually been smashed together such that I was really only about 100m back of the start line. It was the most anti-climactic start I have ever experienced. Being mashed in the corral had also unknowingly protected me from the elements. As soon as the crowd dispersed, we were hit by a huge wash of cold air and brutal cross wind under the bridge. It was awful under that bridge - no view, no GPS signal, very windy and very cold. Coming off the lower bridge deck, my lungs were burning and I felt as though I had just finished a sprint on a dry, cold winter day. Not a good feeling.

Since my GPS had conked out under the bridge deck, I also had no idea what my pace was or how far we had gone. Watch said 6km and 20 minutes elapsed...obviously I was not running 3:30 kilometres so something was amiss. My HR was also brutally high - 184 across the bridge, so I deliberately slowed down. At the 5km mark my watch said 23 minutes so I was on track for what I would normally pace an open marathon at. The question long could I hold that pace given my sub-optimal training?

The race through Brooklyn was incredibly congested and chaotic, and a total spectacle. The cheering crowds, however, were plentiful and fact, other than over the Verrazano, I don't think there were any gaps in the spectators at all. The sun was out and it was a glorious day to cheer on a race. As I ran through the boroughs, I recalled the Fred Lebow movie "Run For Your Life" and really appreciated the storied history of the race.

The answer to the question of how long the legs would hold out came swiftly as we entered Manhattan on the Queensborough Bridge. Just past the halfway mark, we crossed a small bridge that was rather heartbreaking despite its short distance. My legs started informing me that they were not happy with the expectations being placed on them, and I knew it was just a matter of time. Brain said yes, legs said hell no. By the time I reached the Queensborough at 16 miles (25k) with its steady climb, I was done. Hips started cramping, knees ached, quads hated me, general fatigue threatened.

My legs loosened up a bit on the off-ramp into Manhattan and I was somewhat hopeful that I would bounce back, but just as the exit jackknifed to the left to spill us out onto 1st Avenue the runner directly in front of me stopped dead in his tracks with a leg cramp. Like an idiot, I smacked right into the back of him with nowhere to go. My left hamstring pulled and froze, and then both legs completely cramped up with the sudden stop. Another runner behind stopped for me to ensure that I could keep going (I was quite appreciative of him), but this was the final straw for my legs. Their contempt for me was complete.

As we ran up 1st Avenue, the blocks were ticking away and it was mentally difficult to see the street numbers - I was on 60th and knew I needed to go to 127th before I crossed into the Bronx. Then I would need to descend back down to 57th to enter the Central Park finish line and THEN go back up again. It felt like a long, long way. At this point, I had slowed considerably and neither my head nor my legs were really in the race anymore. My 1:40 first half now was impossible to match and I would be lucky to finish under 3:40.

It's funny that after doing two Ironmans that running an open marathon would be such a mental challenge, but it was. I was drained and fatigued and just ready for the race to be over. I'm not sure I have ever really checked out of a race like that, but I know for sure that it makes it so much harder to persevere once you stop caring. And when I reached Harlem, I am almost ashamed to admit that I did the unthinkable. I stopped. I sat down on the curb. And I just sat there.

It was the closest I have ever come to DNF'ing. Realizing eventually that it was ridiculous to DNF a race with less than 8k to go, I got up after a couple minutes and just started running again. During the time that I had sat on the curb, the group of runners had swelled and I knew that my little *time-out* had cost me. And at that point, it really bothered me. I resolved not to walk or stop again, apart from briefly at the next aid stations to get some fluid down.

Halfway down 5th Avenue, we turned into Central Park for the final section of the race. This was my favorite part and not just because I was almost done! It was like a breath of fresh air - the road through Central Park was undulating and full of shockingly beautiful trees with their multi-colored fall leaves. The rest of the race had been so urban, industrial and very New York. The contrast of the park was a total relief, to be back in some semblance of nature. Aaaaaah.

I realized at the 25 mile mark that what seemed like one in every three runners was walking. It was nuts. I was so disappointed in myself and so determined to salvage a 3:40 that there was no damned way I was walking. Forget the legs. No. More. Walking.

The last mile into Central Park was amazing. People cheering, smiling, happy.

And then it was over. *Bliss*

Happy was short-lived until I realized I now had to hobble another damned mile to stand in line for dry clothes. I am not exaggerating. A frickin' mile. Normally my race report would stop at the finish line, but the crowded, ridiculous march to the baggage trucks deserves a mention. The bag trucks were lined up in REVERSE numerical order, thus the runners having started at the front with low bib numbers had to walk FOREVER to get their bags. Then, once you finally arrived at the baggage trucks, they were so ridiculously disorganized that there were line-ups for 45 minutes to an hour. Bad, bad, bad way to end what was otherwise a decently organized event.

The synopsis? It is a race worth running once in a lifetime, and I had a pretty good half all things considered. However, a marathon is not won until 26.2 miles have been traveled. Finish time was a yucky 3:36:36...not pretty, but I got what I deserved by letting the devil in my head trick me into thinking that I should quit.

And now? The off-season. Yay!!!!!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A very hot, long day in Hawaii

A year ago, I watched Ironman Kona unfold online from my hotel room in Victoria BC, the day before running the 2009 Victoria Marathon. At that time, I had exactly two triathlons under my belt (a sprint and an oly) and had the very daunting task ahead of me of training for Ironman Canada 2010.

Only in the wackiest of fantasies could I have imagined that in one year I would be toeing the line with 1800 of the world's best triathletes at the 2010 Ford Ironman World Championship.
Yet, it was somehow possible, and at 3:30am on Saturday October 9, 2010 I greeted the humid Kona dawn to begin what would be a very challenging and humbling day.

I was a bit less nervous than at IMC because I (kind of) understood what was about to unfold. With some mild reluctance, I accepted my fate for the day - it would be hot, it would be hard and it would hurt. Kona is known to be very challenging at the best of times, never mind when you are only six weeks out from your first Ironman. As such, my goal was simple - to finish by 8pm. I deliberately set expectations low because I wanted to enjoy the day as much as possible rather than fixating on a time goal. The key was to relish the fact that I was really in Kona at the Big Show.

The open water swim in Kailua Bay brought with it all kinds of evil for a nervous swimmer like me. Not only are wetsuits banned, but the swim start was like nothing I have experienced - we had to tread water for 10 minutes before the gun went off! It was total, uncontrolled chaos. I tried as best I could to stay calm, but there was really no good spot to be in and it was hard to keep moving forward. The swells were nauseating and the current was maddening. I also swallowed more than my fair share of salt water! My time of 1:22 was pretty pathetic, but I am ecstatic just to have survived....after all, the prospect of a 3.8k ocean swim sans wetsuit is very terrifying to me.

Seeing the 1:22 on the clock as I exited, I had two opposing thoughts: thank goodness it was not 1:30, and damn, that is really, really slow. There were flashbacks to my first triathlon when I got back to transition and there were no bags left on the rack. Throwing in the proverbial towel was definitely in my mind at T1.

T1 was a soppy wet gong show - I left with sunscreen dripping off me and into my eyes, and felt really flustered knowing how far back I was.

I relaxed a little heading out onto the bike and it was quite enjoyable to ride the first section through town. The "hot corner" of Kuakini and Palani was piled full of spectators and was fun. The uphill section on Kuakini was a bit of a shock to my heart rate, however, so I just kept my cadence high and focused on enjoying the surroundings.

The pace noticeably increased as the riders hit the Queen K. Seeing the string of riders ahead of me on the Queen K drove home the amazing reality that I was actually competing here...oops, I said that word...."competing", not "participating". It was forseeable that my mindset would change as soon as I got on my bike and I didn't fight it too much. The first 2 hours of the ride was (controllably) fast and fun! I had some mild cramping (which I attribute to the salt water consumption on the swim), but stuck to my nutrition plan of a salt pill + gel every 45 minutes and as much GU Brew and water as I could handle.

The fast and fun bit had to end, though! The Kona bike course is famous for two things - the heat, and the wind - and Madame Pele did not disappoint on this day. By the time I reached Kawaihae, it was sweltering hot. I kept an eye on the ocean since a few riders had advised me that rough water was a sure sign of the Hawi winds. Sure enough - about halfway up the ascent to Hawi, I saw the whitecaps warning me that I had few precious moments before it was time to just hang on. I downed two gels, a salt tab and dumped the last of my GU Brew into my Speedfil, just in time for the cyclone to hit. For the next 45 minutes up to Hawi and back down the hill, the wind gusts threw me around like a piece of lettuce. It was crazy.

What should have been an enjoyable descent out of Hawi was a relentless struggle to stay focused and stay on my bike. I could see the riders in front of me getting hit with the swirling wind and paid absolute attention to what was going on in front of me, knowing that in a few seconds I would get hit by the exact same gusts of cross wind. My guess is that the gusts were 50kph+. There were a few embankments that offered some temporary relief from the cross wind - I used these to relax a bit, take sips of water and get a gel down.

After returning through Kawaihae, the dead heat of the lava struck. There was not a cloud in the sky and the heat was vicious (I was later told that the temperature had been 44 degrees Celsius in the lava fields). Around 120km, I became cognizant of pain - the nerves in my metatarsal pads were screaming ( it is a condition called "hot feet" - it feels like someone is taking a blow torch to the pads of your feet) and my forearms were pasty red with sunburn. There was nothing I could do about either. None of the aid stations had sunscreen when I asked. Spending the last 60km in the barren lava fields in the sweltering heat of the day definitely teaches you a thing or two about yourself.

When I reached the airport, my focus was on getting the last of my nutrition down, picking up my cadence and relaxing a bit - I needed those legs to run on. It was totally humbling to see the pro men leaders coming out of the energy lab as I was rolling back into town on my bike. Are you kidding me? They were almost done....and I had a full marathon to run.

T2 was painful. The sunburn on my forearms and back was searing as the volunteers gobbed on sunscreen, and the pads of my feet were not happy to be covered with compression socks. Aside from the pain I was already experiencing was the reality that it was 2:30pm and I was about to go run a marathon in the blazing sun. This would be the hardest 26.2 miles ever.

The marathon was less a run and more of a hobble from aid station to aid station. This was my survival tactic and I formed a little bit of a routine through each aid station. Grab water. Dump it on my head. Grab another water, drink it. Grab a coke, drink it. Grab as many sponges and ice as I could hold. Sometimes I even dumped cola on my face and drank the sponges. It didn't matter. The whole thing was crazy and ridiculous and hard.

On the run course, I cried. I hurt and I didn't care anymore.

The first 16k out-and-back on
Ali'i Drive was humid and tough, but in retrospect I realize that at least there were people to cheer and some nice views of the ocean. Comparatively, the final 26k out and back along the Queen K to the energy lab was a nightmarish hell. Lava, lava everywhere and nothing to look at but the long hot road stretching out ahead of you. Talk about a lesson in perseverance.

Miraculously though, somewhere along the murderous Queen K I started feeling kind of ok. Maybe it was the 28 glasses of cola or the 18 salt pills or the Tylenol gel caps or just the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other. I reached the halfway mark in 2:01 and was floored. It was painful and it was slow, but I could get this thing over with in two more hours. 8pm be damned....the motivation to finish by 6:30pm sans glow stick was huge.

Along the back half of the marathon, I started chatting to the other runners and cheering on the runners going in the opposite direction. It felt good and removed me from the pain I was feeling. We were all in this together, and there was no point in suffering alone. Some of the conversations were hilarious - one lady kept talking about all the food she wanted to, fries, milkshake. I had to run away from her because she was making me nauseous!!

And miraculously, the last hill up to Palani appeared. And then the glorious downhill until I reached the crowds of Ali'i Drive. Tears of joy appeared as I ran down Ali'i and at 6:31pm I crossed the finish line at the Ford Ironman World Championship. It is not a moment I will forget soon.

Kona is a truly humbling experience - to finish in 11:31 and be in the middle of the pack is very eye opening. Over two-thirds of the finishers come in under twelve hours. I finished 48th in my age group out of 90, but considering that I was keeping company with the world's best in my rookie year at this sport AND only six weeks after my Ironman debut and qualifying race at Ironman Canada, I am pretty happy with the result. There were some truly amazing athletes out there - the young, the old, the fit and the disabled. All amazing.
The day was very, very tough. Not only were the conditions totally extreme - heat, wind, humidity all wreaked havoc - but the course was challenging to boot. It was easily the most difficult race I have ever done and possibly the most difficult thing I have ever done period. There were many moments of reaching inside and digging in when I felt had absolutely nothing left, and I am so glad I didn't quit.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Kona gear check

Have been busy this morning making last minute preparations and packing my gear bags. Shortly I will head off to check my bike in.

It always boggles my mind how gear intensive triathlons are! Here is a run down of my Kona gear - some old, some new, all tested and true:

Aqua Sphere Kaiman goggles with smoke lenses

Orbea Ora TLT, Shimano ultegra
Shimano Dura Ace 7850 wheels with Michelin Pro3 race tires
Garmin Forerunner 310XT with heart rate monitor
Sugoi fizz tank, LG tri shorts
Shimano TR-51 tri shoes
Speedfil hydration system
Sugoi C9 gel gloves

Mizuno Wave Elixir 5 with Yankz speed laces
Camelbak Charm 1.5L hydration pack
Speed Theory branded Headsweats cap

GU Brew in Blueberry Pomegranate
GU Roctane in Vanilla Orange + Island Nectar (yum!)
GU Chomps in Cranberry and Watermelon
Thermolyte electrolyte tablets

That's a whole lotta gear!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kona race week

Race week in Kona has officially arrived. The buzz around Dig Me beach in Kailua is pretty infectious and Ali'i Drive is a lycra, visor and compression wearing scene. There are fit people everywhere, and you don't have to look to hard to find the pros amongst them.

It has been a fun week so far, though the reality that I'm going to have to race in 5 days really kicked in when I picked up my bib today. Since arriving on Saturday, the days have been slipping by rather quickly!

It has been busy - I've run Ali'i Drive a few times (including a charity 10k race on Sunday), rode a few sections of the course and enjoyed a couple swims. Every Ironman swim should be as scenic as the one here! The water is clear, there are lots of colorful fish (humuhumunukunukuapua'a!) and you can see the bottom the entire way. Who knew that I would LIKE the swim part!

It's not all a proverbial walk on the beach though. It's hot, humid and windy. The crosswinds at Hawi did not disappoint on a training ride yesterday - things could get interesting on race day if the winds are that strong. The wheel change was definitely a good thing as we were at the mercy of a solid 30kph wind with gusts that were probably 50-60kph. The person that recommended taking in lots of nutrition before hitting that section of the bike course was a wise, wise person.

Aside from the last few training sessions, we've also been participating in the requisite Kona race week activities - coffee and brunch at Lava Java this morning, hitting the booths along Ali'i Drive for samples, and on Thursday the Kona undie run! It was like being in a candy store running along Ali'i this morning - bag check in at the King Kam, stops for Nuun, Cytomax and Perform along the way and lots of freebie recovery drink at the end. Every training run should be like this!

Most of all, it is an honor to be here to take it all in and very humbling to be beside so many accomplished athletes. Getting to Kona is one thing - being fast here means something entirely different indeed and I am totally out of my league. My focus will be on trying to have fun and trying to finish - it's pretty unreal that I am going to have the opportunity to race Kona, with all its lore and infamy. Here's hoping Madame Pele wants me on her team on Saturday!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Countdown to Kona: the more things stay the same, the more they change.

There is something to be said about the comfort of having a routine. The chill in the air, dark mornings and early sunsets remind me constantly that summer has slipped away, yet here I am continuing to train day in and day out. Figuratively, I'm the girl left dancing at the bar long after the lights have switched on and everyone else has gone home. Except there is no dancing. Just more miles to log.

I'm content to live this way because it is the way life has been for a long time. Wake up early, work out, scramble around, eat lots, fall into bed exhausted. Swim, bike, run, repeat. The repetition is comforting and my weekly routine is well worn in. Thankfully those around me have been accepting of my new pastime (or at least feigned tolerance for it).

Yet despite how unchanged things seem to me personally, I am reminded that life does not stand still. It feels like everyone and everything else around me is moving on. My training partners are selling their gear, signing up for fall marathons and taking trips that do not involve packing copious amounts of lycra. New goals are being set for a new season. Work commitments scream for attention, and a promotion at work demands a renewed focus on doing a great job at being something other than an amateur athlete with some crazy goals. The awareness of just how long I have been engrossed in the madness of training for Ironman is quite sobering.

And yet, despite the continued craziness, I feel like a giddy child who is going to Disneyland. I have a bib number for Kona and a plane ticket to get there. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this.

I'm anxious, scared and thrilled at the same time - the intimidation factor is enormous! Eighteen months ago I could not swim 25m. I struggled to finish my first marathon five years ago and worked my butt off to get a little better at running. I bought my first road bike at age 34 and eventually learned how to stay upright on it, but not without more than a few mishaps. Would I call myself a triathlete? Ha. Not really. I'm just a geeky tax accountant. And yet, I am going to have a chance to participate in Kona as just a regular, normal person beside some very amazing athletes - it is very thrilling and formidable and daunting and overwhelming.

So for the next few weeks, I need to forget about all of that big stuff and just keep doing more of the same ol' thing. It is time to train smart, stay level and embrace the experience - I am so, so very fortunate to have a chance to do this.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Epilogue: Swim, bike, run….surf?

I’ve had a few comments that I omitted a critical part of the story in my IMC race blog. That was intentional.

The journey to IMC deserved to be a chapter in my life on its own right - there were too many long days and too much sweat poured into that journey for it not to. And I also fully expected that the end of the story would be written on or before midnight on Sunday, August 30th.

But alas, the story continues.

With a little aloha to boot.

Those of you who know me well know of my fondness for Hawaii. Since my first vacation in Kona in 2004, I have gone back six times. I love everything about the land of Aloha - the breeze, the smell of plumeria, the crazy juxtaposition of black lava against lush rainforest, crazy hikes to hidden waterfalls and the laid-back island attitude. Oh, and maybe a Lava Flow or two….the silly tourist drink that is half pina colada, half daiquiri and totally addictive.

My athletic endeavors in Hawaii to date have been limited to a half-marathon (my first age group victory!) and some seriously humid training runs. Oh, and who could forget an ill-advised “pub” crawl in Maui (inspired and fuelled by a few too many mai tais as Linda will attest to…picture evidence below).

Something tells me that my next trip to Hawaii will be somewhat different…..

On October 9, 2010 at 7am, I will be doing it all over again - 140.6 redux, this time at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

The big show. For a triathlete, and a rookie one at that, there is no greater honor than getting to the start line at Kona. My 10th in age group at Ironman Canada was enough to catch me a roll-down qualifying spot. At first, I hesitated in taking the slot due to my complete and utter inexperience. This will be only my 7th triathlon ever. As a novice swimmer, the open ocean non-wetsuit legal swim terrifies me, never mind the heat and the raging tradewinds on the ride and run. However, despite the adversity, I realize that this may be the opportunity of a lifetime.

I watched the 2009 IM Kona live on Universal Sports last year, from my hotel room the day before the Victoria marathon. I had just signed up for IMC. I could barely swim, had never ridden a tri bike (and had only been riding for less than 12 mos period) and was still having time wrapping my head around the distance. Just finishing IMC would easily be my biggest athletic accomplishment.

One year later, I have a bib number at Kona.

I will have the chance to swim Kailua Bay and ride the legendary Queen K to Hawi. I will get the opportunity to endure the run through the lava desert. And if I am lucky, I will cross that very famous finish line on Ali’i Drive

Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this.

I am nervous. Thrilled. Awestruck. Every day I expect to wake up and have someone tell me that this is all a dream….but it’s really happening, isn’t it?

Aloha, indeed.

Do not get your Mogwai wet

So usually this blog is about me…but yesterday I got to trade in my racing kit to be a triathlon super –fan at the Vancouver triathlon for Donovan’s debut at the Olympic distance!!
Race day could be described in one word: CRAP. It was cold, wet, rainy and miserable. I felt so badly for everyone racing, teeth chattering before the swim start.
Combined with the completely crap weather, the swim course brought along some crap of its own – the low tide forced the participants to wade and mash through much of the start and the turn, and the swim exit was a mucky and rocky mess. Brutal!
Despite the challenging conditions, Donovan totally rocked his first Oly. His swim was solid (28:35), followed by an equally solid ride (1:10:30, including T1 and T2) and a fantastic run! Finish time was 2:15:53, good for 14th place overall and a 6th place finish in an extremely competitive age group. I suspect that due to the conditions there was some conservatism exercised on the ride, but the 37:49 run time was smokin' (5th fastest of the day!).
The day did have its moments, however. For those of you familiar with the movie Gremlins, you will recall that the Mogwai came with very clear instructions: do not expose to bright light, do not get them wet and do not feed after midnight.
I have suspected for a long time that Donovan may actually be part Mogwai as he comes with very similar instructions: do not get wet and do not allow to get cold. It is also quite possible that he should not be fed after midnight.
Evidencing the hypothesis that Donovan may in fact be Mogwai, here is a picture of him starting the triathlon:
However, as a result of two hours and sixteen minutes in the cold and wet, the metamorphosis into Gremlin seemed to be unavoidable. Donovan the Gremlin emerged from the triathlon looking like this:
Lessons learned from the day:
1. Never get your Mogwai cold and wet. It turns into an evil Gremlin with sharp teeth and claws.
2. If you do get your Mogwai wet, steer clear of the Gremlin. Get it home as soon as possible and try to avoid being bitten.
3. Aside from successfully coping with the Gremlin, my skills as a triathlon super-fan are decidedly, um, less than super. Not only did I forget my camera, cowbell and rainjacket, but also failed to have a sign. My blackberry photos of the event qualify as the worst photos ever taken. Epic fail noted - I promise to improve and will train hard for future super-fan events.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Ironman Canada - one wild ride!

Four days post IMC, I am at a total loss. I started to write my race report a couple days ago and gave up, so now here I sit again trying to put this experience into words. It is damned hard. So I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

At 7am on Sunday August 30, 2010 I took my place with 2,800 other wetsuit-sporting athletes on a very busy little stretch of beach in Penticton, BC. At 6:09 pm I crossed the finish line only a few hundred feet away, an Ironman finisher.

The days preceding the race were (not surprisingly) quite anxiety riddled, but otherwise very enjoyable. A nice beach vacation. I tried not to think too hard about the task at hand - in fact, the worst pre-race moments came when I did think about the upcoming race. Of course, the night before the race had its requisite sleeplessness.

In retrospect, one of the best decisions I made was to buck up and stay at the Penticton Lakeside resort - the host hotel conveniently located right next to the transition area. I woke up at 3:45am on race morning and hustled over to body marking and transition as it opened at 5am. There were no lines and I got through my pre-race prep very quickly. This afforded me almost an entire hour of relaxation, quiet and my very own transition area potty stop in the hotel room before I went back to the start line at 6:30am to join the swim start chaos.

I know I have stressed this over and over, but I am NOT a swimmer. My race would be first and foremost about getting through the swim without incident. Standing on the right side of the beach facing Lakeside Drive, I did not feel confident. Swim caps and neoprene everywhere.

Breathe deep. You can do this.

I waited a few moments after the start to see what would happen, walked a few steps, and dove in. To my absolute surprise, I found open water immediately. Buoy 1. Still going. Buoy 2. I can do this. My normal "I hate this and want to quit" feeling that usually accompanies open water swimming was pleasantly absent.

It was not until Buoy 8 that there was a problem with congestion. The batting and pummelling started and I took a few looks around to assess the situation. Bad idea. Flailing swim caps everywhere. I felt the swim demon lurking. Great big yellow capped male swimmers were everywhere, kicking, grabbing, hitting. It was at that point that I somehow remembered Peter Scott's advice from my very first open water swim lesson: Be Spaghetti. If they hit you, move. If you hit them, be flopsy. Don't get hurt. Just keep moving along like a piece of floating, pliable, floppy spaghetti.

So in my disguise as a piece of pasta, I made it through what felt like a really, really long time in the water. Exiting the swim, I was just ecstatic. I had no idea what my time was, and really did not care. I was out. Goal #1 accomplished: do not drown.
Emerging from the chaos.  
T1 was clogged - I had to grab my own bag and fight for a spot in the tent. I dumped my own bag and started rifling through it - a volunteer started packing my stuff and helped a little with my socks and gloves. I waffled a over the arm warmers but put them on (they were a last minute addition to my gear bag) - this turned out to be a wise decision.

Riding down the first part of Main Street was surreal. Riders everywhere, people cheering everywhere. I was really here.

I rode fairly conservatively, but with a little tailwind it felt fast. McLean Creek Road was a total disaster - congestion everywhere. It was frustrating to be ground to a halt by all the riders on the hill. I looked down and saw 9kph and was really pissed off. Move it people!

I started eating and drinking at about 45 minutes into the ride. I choked a little on the bonk bar and had to immediately abandon my nutrition plan of bonk bars and GU chomps. They just didn't go down the way they did in training. No more. It would be gels and GU Brew, and that's it. Shortly after this decision, I launched a bottle of GU Brew concentrate off my bike and realized that I would now need to rely on course support to get me to special needs. Being Spaghetti would need to be my strategy on the bike too.

Average speed at this point was around 35kph and I was still caught in a lot of congestion. It was impossible to get past the hordes of riders and if you dropped back, you got caught in more riders. It was extremely frustrating since the riders were predominately male and I was not competing against them. So you can imagine how ticked I was when I got penalized for drafting just as a horde of male riders past me outside Oliver. Argh!!!! (I am not going to waste time complaining about the officiating but it is TOTALLY ridiculous to be giving drafting penalties to EVERYONE on the road. Where are we supposed to go???)

I used the penalty stop (aka the Sin-bin Stopover) to use the potties, refill my bottle and have some fuel. I hopped on my bike and made short work of Richter, and was really happy to see that I was passing the same people that I had been near and around prior to the Sin-bin Stopover. I felt good. The sun was shining. The top of Richter was like a little party....but I knew that this party was only getting started. The rollers and Yellow Lake were calling.

Top of Richter!
I rode pretty conservatively through the rollers (aka the 7 Bitches) and even forgot to count the ascents...when I hit the Seven Stones winery I knew that the heavy lifting was done. Or not. The headwind started blasting and my speed plummeted. The out-and-back section was tough work.

I stopped briefly at special needs to load up on GU Brew, shotgun the best V8 juice of my life and do a little pee-pee dance outside the potties before giving up and, um, watering some tumbleweeds. I know that this cost me some time and kind of regret stopping - next time I skipping the potties and am going on my bike!

Refreshed, energized and ready to roll, I came out of the out-and-back feeling great.

And then I saw the cloud.

The biggest, blackest, bad-ass storm cloud you have ever seen was perched right in front of me. The wind kicked up. The rain started. The hail started. I grabbed my bullhorns and held on for dear life. Teeth chattered. I can't remember exactly, but there may have been swearing.

I was cold, hands numb and totally delirious by the time I peaked Yellow Lake. The crowds, in their rain gear and umbrellas, did nothing to inspire me. I wanted off my bike. Now.

The ride down from Yellow Lake was easily the most terrifying ride of my life. The pavement was soaked and slippery and I had no braking capacity. The cross wind gusts were errant and threatening to throw me off my bike....I held on for dear life. Each kilometer closer to T2 made me hopeful and when I rounded Main Street onto Lakeside, I was just so so thankful. Anyone who says luck has no place in racing was not there on Sunday. I was so very lucky to be back in T2 in one piece.

T2 was less congested and much easier to get through. However, the fact that I now had to run a marathon was a reality I did not want to face. I denied.  I balked. Went to the potty. Stalled like a little kid at bedtime. Crap. 42.2 k to go.

Little steps, little steps, one mile at a time. My run mantra. Coming out of T2, I dared look at my watch - 2:20pm. If I could run a four hour marathon, I would be finished just over 11 hours. I immediately banished the thought - it was too early for predictions. Little steps, little steps, one mile at a time.

The run plan was this: run the first 5k and then start walking each aid station. No matter how much I felt like conquering the world, I would walk the aid stations. And the hills. I drank from my Camelbak regularly, had a gel every 45 minutes and just stuck to this strategy.

And it seemed to work. Breaking the marathon down into little pieces was less daunting than trying to conquer the entire thing. Every time my stride would start extending, I drew it back. Little steps. High cadence. Heart rate 150. Keep it light. Keep it smooth. I started passing people. When the brutal stitch started in my left side, I willed it to be gone.

Keeping my cool along Skaha Lake
Skaha Lake was sunny and calm on the way out to OK Falls and it was a perfect afternoon. Then, as quickly as the vicious cloud had appeared on Yellow Lake, the blasting wind made an appearance. The return trip to Penticton was like running in a wind tunnel, complete with water splashing from the whitecaps on Skaha. I had sand in my eyes and the constant wind just sapped my energy. I was so thankful to finally reach the houses at the north end of Skaha, to enjoy the respite that they offered from the howling wind.

At Cherry Lane mall, I allowed myself to believe. The run plan had worked - I still had spring in my step (although a cramp was nagging in my calf) and I felt pretty good down Main Street. The crowds were energetic and inspiring. I could do this! 40k mark. Turn down Winnipeg. I saw my family waving at me from the crowd on Lakeside and felt a leap in my heart. I was almost there!

Almost. What must be the looooongest 7 minutes in sport lay ahead of me. The Most Painful Seven Minutes of My Life. You see the finish, and you run away from it. Evil. Yet somehow, you find the energy to pick up your feet and continue running. There is no way you are walking now, dammit.

After making the turn on Lakeside I felt like I was sprinting (although anyone watching me will probably tell me otherwise). I saw my dad, gave a few high-fives and the next 500m passed way too quickly. The noise, the crowds. The finish line. 11:09 on the clock and I was done.

Just like that, the incredible journey was over. I had put my heart into this thing - swam, biked and ran in every condition imaginable, put aside my fears and did it. No more doubts, no more anxiety. I made it.

My favorite picture from the race is not the one of me at the top of Richter. It is not the one of me running along Skaha or high-fiving along The Most Painful Seven Minutes of My Life. It isn't even the shot of me breaking the tape at the finish line.

No, it's the one of me the day before the race with my two biggest fans - my niece Lily and my dog Bogey. We were sidewalk chalking in front of the finish line. Later that evening, after finishing the race I stopped and looked down - and saw Lily's scribbles on the pavement. It was the best part of the day.

Congratulations to everyone out there on Sunday racing, cheering and volunteering - you are all an inspiration to me. Thank you to all the iron-fans and supporters who have been there for me, not just on race day, but over my entire journey. I could write a whole blog of thank yous and I hope to thank each one of you individually in the days and weeks to come.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

This is just a long training day with valet parking and catering, right?!

A friend of mine posted this podcast to his blog and, although not terribly original, I wanted to repost it. Seeing someone else's words describe the way that I am feeling right now somehow felt comforting.

There is lots of doubt. Anxiety. And time to think. Those long hours spent training are now vacant. So the mind churns.

Reading this made me laugh. No one said this would be easy, and yet, in just over a week it will all be over. There is nothing more to do now except pass the time, trust that the training I did was enough and relish in the day when it arrives.

Right now you’ve all entered the taper. Perhaps you’ve been at this a few months, perhaps you’ve been at this a few years. For some of you this is your first IM, for others, a long-overdue welcome back to a race that few can match.

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 November to erase. Long rides were followed by long runs, which both were preceeded 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 lays 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 onto the lake shore on August 29th, 2010 with nearly 3,000 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 for so VERY long is finally here.

The bagpipers will walk across the beach. Steve King will ask you to sing along. You will.

O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command. With glowing hearts we see thee rise, The True North strong and free! From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. God keep our land glorious and free! O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

You will tear up in your goggles. Everyone does.

The helicopters will roar overhead.

Maranatha will roar. 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 Penticton Lakeside Hotel 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’s happening, then you’ll head for the bike.

In the shadows on Main Street you’ll spin out of town – the voices, the cowbells, and the curb-to-curb chalk giving you a hero’s sendoff.

You won’t wipe the smile off your face for miles as you whisk along the lakeside, past fully stocked, silent aid stations for the run to come.

You’ll spin up McLean Creak Road. You’ll roll down towards Osoyoos, past the vineyards glowing in the morning sun. 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.
Richter Pass will come. Everyone talks about it, but it’s really nothing. You’ll know this halfway up, as you’re breathing easy and climbing smoothly. Look to your right. Look how high you’re climbing.

Look at all the bikes below, still making their way there. You’re ahead of them. All of them.
You’ll climb over Richter, and descend to the valley below. You’ll ride the rollers, one at a time. 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 the rollers behind you. You’ll head into the Cawston out and back. You’ll put on your game face, fighting the urge to feel down as you ride the wrong way for what seems like hours. 10 miles in, 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 ride on leaving Cawston behind you and head for the final showdown at Yellow Lake.

You’ll grind the false flats to the climb. You’ll know you’re almost there. You’ll fight for every inch of road. You’ll make the turn towards the summit as the valley walls close in for the kill, and put your head down. The crowd will come back to you here – the cars are always waiting to cross the summit, and you’ll soon be surrounded in the glorious noise that is the final climb of Ironman Canada. 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. Summit.

Just like that, you’ll be descending. 12 miles to go, and no climbing left. 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 into town – 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 in Penticton, 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 Penticton 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 halfway at OK Falls. 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 Penticton sunshine will yawn, and head for the mountains behind the bike course…behind that last downhill you flew down all those hours ago. You’ll be coming up to those aid stations you passed when you started the bike…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…puts a medal over your head……all you have to do is get there.

You’ll start to hear 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, 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. You’ll turn onto Lakeside Drive. Your Ironman Canada 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.

You’ll make the turn in front of the Sicamous in the dark, and head for home. 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.

You’ll listen for Steve King, or Mike Reilly, or Whit Raymond. Soon they’ll see you. Soon, everyone will see you. You’ll run towards the lights, between the fences, and into the nightsun 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. 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 will be an Ironman.

You are ready.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Taper time

According to my Garmin training logs, since January 1, 2010 I have swam 190km, rode 4,362km and run 1,531km. At first it is shocking to see those numbers logged, and then again, not so surprising.

The weeks of long training are officially over.

It's taper time for the big show, Ironman Canada, on August 29, 2010. In three (short) weeks, this adventure will be over.

Tapers are interesting beasts - while seemingly rest and less training should be a good thing, this is the time when all the aches, anxieties and uncertainties come to roost. The physical labour is over, yielding to the purely mental task of actually gearing up for the A race - rest, nutrition and removing stress from my life are more important now than ever.

Looking back on other tapers for "A" races - my first half-marathon, my first marathon, my first triathlon, my first Boston - I know I can draw some experience from them, but at the same time know that I will still make some mistakes. I've heard the horror stories - the broken goggles, the forgotten nutrition, the broken derailleur. Hopefully a stroke of good luck will be with me to ensure that my mistakes are little ones.

Right now, my legs are tired and I'm a bit drained. I'm tired of long rides and long runs, of early morning swims, and of sicky sweet carb drinks. At the same time, it has been amazing to see how the long hours of training have forced my body to adapt to the mileage and long days. Last year at the same time I was struggling to train for my first Olympic distance tri - two hour rides would leave me sapped, and yet here I am today, doing five hour rides with a run immediately afterwards!

I am nervous, anxious and fearful of Ironman Canada, and yet at the same time, ready to try and tackle it. I'm still not convinced I can swim 3.8km with 2600 people and am definitely not sure I can run a marathon in 30 degree heat...never mind AFTER doing one of the most challenging rides I have ever done. But, hey, I think I've done the work....I may as well give 'er a shot.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Iron [insert word here]

Since training for Ironman Canada has become an all-consuming aspect of my life, I have taken to affectionately using the term “iron” as an adjective for all the side-effects related to this endeavor. Some examples of this amazingly flexible and descriptive adjective are:

“Iron-broke” ….new bike, carbon wheels, wetsuit, a never ending supply of GU chomps – it never stops. I did not quite believe that the $600 entry fee would be the cheapest part. But it is!
“Iron-hungry” …the concept of first lunch and second lunch is quite novel. I have also recently starting introducing first breakfast and second breakfast. Eating is good. (Note:  The less politically correct version of iron-hungry is “Iron-pig”. I have assumed that this is an affectionate term, of course.)
“Iron-tired” ….5 am wake-up for swim class. ‘nuff said.
“Iron-you-gotta-be-f’ing-kidding-me-another-brick-workout” …no explanation required.
“Iron-orphan” ….my poor pup Bogey.

and my personal favorite:

“Iron-bitch” ….reserved for the end of those sixteen-hour training weeks when some poor, unsuspecting barista at Starbucks screws up my order for a double no-foam non-fat cappuccino.

And so the story goes. During those long training sessions, I find a lot of time to reflect. Most of all, it amuses me to step back and consider the remarkable changes in my life over the last nine months, absorbed by the strange lifestyle of an Ironman trainee.

I realize I have always been a bit more Sporty Spice than Posh, but the tomboyishness has elevated to a whole new extreme. For instance, at any given moment in any day I am sporting either chain grease or chafing of some sort. Really very ladylike and glamorous, I know.

My aesthetician would be horrified to know that butt butter is my moisturizer of choice, and forget anything about a manicure. Gotta keep the fingernails trimmed to facilitate putting on the wetsuit and doing bike maintenance. Those dark circles under my eyes? Goggle marks. Together with my weird tan lines, they complete the “iron-dork” look.

My hairdresser recently suggested a chemical straightening process, requiring three days without getting my hair wet to let the treatment set in. Horror of horrors, doesn’t she realize that my hair is soaked at least twice a day? And who needs cute hair when it is always stuffed into a bike helmet, swim cap or visor? Just don’t trim the ponytail off. I need that.

My eating habits have turned into simple necessity. Iron-pig indeed. Forget about preparing meals a la Bon App├ętit. I need food, and I need it NOW. Gourmet out. Quick food in. The owner of the sandwich shop across the street from my office is floored by the fact that I order a sandwich, cookie, pop, fruit AND a bag of chips. Likewise, the girl at Jugo Juice always questions me when I ask her to double the protein shot in my smoothie. Although, to be fair I suppose it does sound kind of crazy coming from a 115 pound, petite female.

I hope to one day see my family and non-triathlon friends again and perhaps will again stay awake on a Friday night past 10pm. I also hope to plan a vacation that does not involve toting a Rubbermaid container full of gear, and will someday soon ban Ensure and nutritional supplements from my diet until I am at least 80.

Aside from all this strangeness, though, perhaps the best side-effect of being immersed in training has been the people I have met along the journey. Everyone in the triathlon community, from my training buddies to my coaches to the peeps at the bike shop have been supportive, helpful and inspiring.

Even complete strangers are supportive. Last weekend in Penticton, we were doing a ride along the Ironman course and one of the support vehicles for another group of riders stopped to offer me a cookie, water and some encouragement. In this day and age, a total stranger going out of their way to be helpful and friendly completely floored me. Even more so, he actually seemed genuinely interested! I can commute to work and back in Vancouver for weeks before a stranger actually speaks to me or acts friendly….it has sadly been my experience that people would rather look at their feet, avoid eye contact and try to escape any type of interaction. If it takes getting on a tri bike and sporting an aero helmet to get people to be friendly, then hey, I’m all for it.

I have also been fortunate to get to know a wonderful group of people who have become my support network, my training cohorts and at times, my mind of reason. While some may reason that misery simply loves company, I have in the past couple of months been fortunate to meet and get to know some amazing people - all incredible athletes and wonderful souls. You all know who you are – thank you for the support, the laughs and the inspiration. It makes it easier to keep at it day to day with you beside me. You are my “iron-peeps”.

So, it is with a combination of amusement and heartfelt appreciation that I move into my last month of training for this ridiculously expensive, tiring yet character-building adventure. Giddy up!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Subaru Vancouver Half-Iron race report

My first triathlon was exactly one year ago - the sprint distance at the Subaru Vancouver. I accomplished exactly three goals that day: I did not drown. I finished. I did not finish dead last...but not by much.

365 days later, on the road to Ironman Canada in August, I lined up on the very same beach for the half-iron distance. Pretty tall order for someone who purchased their first road bike 20 months ago and learned to swim front crawl 15 months ago!

Somewhere in-between I have turned into the tri-geek that I vowed I would never become - complete with funky spandex outfit, aero water bottle, carbon tri bike, elastic laces for my shoes, compression socks and a visor. And on Tuesday of this week, I completed the transformation to the dark side with my purchase of the aero-helmet. As though being an accountant were not dorky enough.

SwimGoal(s): Avoid the chaos. Don't puke.

My swim is still not pretty, but it is getting more comfortable despite the rampant flailing. I am a land mammal, that is clear. However, I succeeded today in staying out of the chaos of the start, sticking to my own pace, and legging it out without incident. There was a wicked current and some interesting wave action, leading to some very high sodium intake and a little bout of seasickness. However, I made it through....albeit in a very un-outstanding 37:27.

Goal(s): Drink. Eat. Wee.

For the uninitiated, I apologize. Long distance runners and triathletes alike tend to fixate on certain topics that are somewhat less than glamorous. Nutrition and its by-products are one of such topics, and were the focus of my ride today.

After having suffered from sub-par nutrition at Oliver, my goal here was to drink every last drop of my GU Brew (which included a few scoops of extra carb for good measure), eat my gels, take my salt pills and widdle at will.

It was all good except for the widdle part. Not for lack of trying! I experienced complete mind-body dissonance between the necessity to stay hydrated and the total social unacceptability of weeing in public. So the good news is that I arrived in T2 with a clean bike. The bad news is that I wasted some time on the run trying to find a socially acceptable place to widdle.

Other than the fixation on nutrition, the bike was pretty uneventful. It was a tough course with constant undulation, some funky crosswind and no real chance to just settle in and cruise. Not surprisingly, my average speed was less than at Oliver.

The new aerohelmet was really comfortable. Not sure that it really sped me up, but damn, did I ever look like a dork :)

Goal: Tough out the fade.

Easier said than done! For those of you cheering, I want you to know that I really, really appreciated it. The lack of cognizance or any blink of recognition was not aimed at you intentionally - my energy was completely and utterly consumed just keeping the run going.

The darkness first appeared around 6k, went away with some gel, and reappeared at 12k. It tricked me into a lot of negative thoughts and taunted me to stop. For anyone who has done an endurance event, this is familiar territory. Feel good. Feel awful. Want to quit. Feel good again.

At the final turn at Spanish Banks, I was really really excited that there were only 3k left. And then I saw Nicole charging up behind me, running the same blistering pace that she did in Oliver. The fear of being passed took over and lit a fire under my rear end....miraculously I even managed to speed up over the last 3k!

Thought I was around 5:08, so was really surprised to see 5:02 and change on the clock when I arrived at the finish line. Official finish: 5:02:48!

The best part was that my race effort was rewarded with a visit to the podium as 2nd place for my AG. Even though I know that the best age groupers in my category were not racing, I am still pretty proud to have been named the BC Provincial long-course AG champion for 2010!

(OK, so it's kind of like being Starbucks barista of the year when you kick all of the other coffee shops out of the competition. The title really doesn't mean anything...but it's still fun!)

All in all, I find it totally amazing that all the training is paying off. I look back to one year ago and realize that I have come a LONG way from the sprint tri last year. Knowing that a very tough month of training for IMC is coming up, it was nice to relish in the small victories of the day, even just for a few moments. Triathlons are complex, with lots of moving parts and things to master, but I am slowly learning.

Some shout outs! Great bigs hugs and thanks to....
  • everyone that came out to cheer!

  • my training buddies who keep me motivated day in and day out and share in the collective suffering

  • to Coach Calvin for great guidance and the cowbell

  • to Nicole for being such a bloody fast runner and scaring me into running faster. I have no doubt you will run me down at IMC.

  • and last but not least, to Speed Theory for selling me some speed :)

Finish: 5:02:48
Swim: 37:27
T1: 3:20
Bike: 2:44:42
T2: 1:48
Run: 1:35:34

Overall: 59/241
Women: 12/72 (includes pros)
Category: 2/11

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ride to Conquer Cancer

While there have been many breakthroughs in research for treatment, prevention and cure, stats say that one in three Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime. A full one-third of us will hear those terrifying words - "You have cancer". So it was with hope of playing a small, small, infintesimal part in the monumental task of conquering cancer that I joined 2000 riders on a two-day journey from Vancouver (well, Surrey) to Seattle (actually Redmond) to raise awareness and funds for the BC Cancer Agency.

The ride itself is symbolic. There were words and themes repeated during the course of the weekend - Hope. Courage. Loss. Inspiration. The 250 kilometres covered over the course of the two days were not supposed to be easy. It was meant to be a challenge and a testament to the human spirit.

The gravity of the event struck me before I even started pedaling on Saturday morning. Arriving in Surrey at 6am on Saturday morning, there were literally thousands upon thousands of people out to show their support. Riders, survivors, volunteers, support crew, families. It was amazing to see the turnout, and even more astonishing to hear that amongst this crowd, over $9.2 million was raised. The opening ceremonies had me in tears - it was a memorial for all those who lost their battles, a celebration of life for those that had survived theirs and a call to action that future generations benefit from the funds raised.

Day 1: Surrey to Mount Vernon, WA - 129km

Word of the day: EPIC.

At 7:15am, we clipped in and began our journey. I have never experienced such chaos on a bike! Utmost care was required during the first few kilometres to stay clear of other riders. It is here that I will express my only non-weather related criticism of the event - for the first 30km to the border, the lead vehicles held the riders back at a top speed of 30kph including downhill. Whatever the organizers were trying to accomplish had the opposite effect - it was a dangerous, chaotic, unsafe log-jam of riders. The faster riders had nowhere to go and as the masses swelled into the back of the lead vehicles, you were forced to swerve and ride your brakes just to stay off the crowd. Bad, bad situation.

The border crossing, as a result, was total chaos but I managed to cross fairly quickly. Once clear of the pack of riders, I skipped through the first Pit Stop at Blaine Middle School and opened up along the coast. The first section -winding down along the coast- was scenic and fast. I realized that I was going a little hard, but didn't really care. It just felt good to be moving.

The weather turned out to be glorious, sunny and warm, but with a fairly substantial south headwind. I had decided to take Ora out for the ride - although she was not ideal for riding in the masses at the beginning, she was perfect for the long straight stretches through the countryside. I deliberately stayed out of the draft of the pelotons and just enjoyed being down in the aerobars. A group of about 15 riders caught me on the north side of Bellingham and I noticed that my brother-in-law Mark was part of the group, so I latched on for a short section through town, feeling that it was safer to be part of the group. After a quick break around 87km, the most challenging (but beautiful) section of road began past Padden Park and around Lake Samish, followed by a final uninspired section of straights (complete with headwind and rough pavement) into Mount Vernon.

We rolled into the Mount Vernon camp around 12:30pm to find that there were only about 20 bikes racked....where was everyone?!! It was pretty cute when a couple of the volunteers and spectators took my picture because I was the first female rider across the line. However, they thought I had completely lost my marbles when I quickly changed and headed out for a short 5k brick run :)

Had a great little run, then back to camp for a massage and shower. There was no wait for the massage (woo-hoo!!!) and the shower facilities totally rocked - after a warm shower, a blow dry (lux camping!!!) and some snacks, I felt recharged and ready around and do nothing! We spent the afternoon savoring regional delicacies....aka Rainier Beer and smokies, but honestly by around 6pm I was ready to call it a day :)

The tent city was quite something to behold. There were rows upon rows of little blue tents and the facilities in general seemed to be sufficient to hold the 2000 riders and support crew. There were never really any substantive line-ups and the services were quite adequate, although I must say that I was quite thankful that it was dry, sunny and warm.

Day 1 GPS stats:
Run: 5.18km in 23:32; Pace 4:32 min/km.

Day 2: Mount Vernon to Redmond, WA - 119km

Word of the day: SOGGY.

My tentmate thankfully woke me around 5:15am. After peeling my sore back off the thermarest (I am apparently not as young as I once was....sleeping on the ground did me no favors), I quickly headed out for breakfast. I knew I needed to move quickly to avoid the crowds. Sure enough, we had just enough time to eat, pack up and get the bikes ready before the masses overran the camp. When the ride started at 7:15am there were still hundreds left in the camp lined up for breakfast and packing up.

Quite the opposite of the previous day, Day 2 brought us fog, mist and a bit of chill. Even though the headwind was gone, it was a soggy, cold ride.

Heading south towards Lake Stevens and Snohomish, the route was scenic albeit more technical than the previous day. There were a number of obstacles made worse by the marginal conditions - about a dozen railway crossings, a treacherous downhill wooden bridge and substantive mileage spent on narrow paved bike paths with regular stops for gates and turnouts. As a result, the average speed dropped quite substantially and caution was the word of the day. I saw three wipeouts first-hand, and judging from some of the bumps and bruises at the finish, suspect that there were quite a few accidents on Day 2.

At the Lake Stevens "lunch" stop (I think it was only 10:30am!), I was getting chilly and decided to skip any further breaks. I only had a thin shell and knew that if I did not keep moving that hypothermia would set in very quickly. I rode pretty much the entire way on my own - thankfully the route was extremely well-marked. The section through Snohomish was fairly hilly and it was here that I decided to take off my rain shell because the sky was brightening up and it had started to warm up. Of course, murphy's law, the deluge set in about 10 minutes later and I was forced to slog the last 30km in downpour without a rain jacket on. I knew that if I stopped I would get too cold, so just moved on as fast as the conditions would bear.....VERY eager to be finished.

I arrived at the finish line just after noon - very soggy and very happy to be finished. There were only about 15 bikes when I arrived and I felt very, very sorry for anyone who was still out in the deluge. The dreary weather unfortunately cast a little pallor on the finish line - what should have been a celebration was a dash for dry clothes and shelter!

The synopsis? An extremely well-organized event and a worthy cause. My team members, sponsored by Fairmont Hotels and Maple Leaf Foods, raised $53,760 and a total of $9.2 million was raised by the BC riders.

Moreover, it was a worthwhile and inspiring experience. I rode alongside survivors, marked by their yellow flags, whose will to live was so infectious and inspiring. I also rode alongside so many who had lost loved ones - children, parents, spouses, friends - a heartwrenching reminder of why cancer research is so important.

And I wore sunscreen, even in the rain.