Saturday, September 17, 2011

A sum of the parts

Like most people, I am multi-faceted, complex and ever-changing.  I may be an accountant, but I am also a daughter.   A sister, an aunt, a spouse, a friend, a dog mother, a mentor, a mentee and a partner. 

I am also an athlete.  For my entire life, I have dabbled in sports and did not really identify as any particular kind of athlete.  I figure skated for eighteen years, have skied for as long as I can remember, played soccer until university and did my time as a gym bunny post-university.  Oh yes, I am also a bit of a tomboy.  :)

At some point during last three years, I have also evolved into a bizarre creature known as a triathlete.  Runners, swimmers and cyclists alike make fun of us (come to think of it, most everyone makes fun of us).  We are a spandex-clad, compression wearing, gear-loving oddity - a hybrid of each of the aforementioned sports, yet universally maligned by purists in each discipline.

Becoming a triathlete is a slippery slope, and honestly I don't think that any of us really sets out to become as deeply imbedded in it as we end up.  I started off with half-marathons, then marathons, bought a road bike, learned how to swim and signed up for my first triathlon because it looked like it might be fun.  Each successive step seemed at first an impossibility, but add a little can-do attitude to each thing you do in this life, and it is amazing what one can achieve.   

After the typical first triathlon near-drowning experience, I was hooked.  Yes, you read that right - I royally sucked at it, and I was hooked.  A unique form of sadomasochism?  Only if you view it as such.  As a person who believes that hard work is rewarded, this sport is indeed a challenge.  Throw in three very different disciplines, as well as the fourth ever-important discipline known as nutrition, and you have a geeky addiction for type-A corporate weekend warriors like myself.

While you can dabble in triathlon as a hobby, it is very easy to become entrenched in it.  I am often asked by others, particularly people whom I work with, why anyone would ever possibly want to exercise so much.  It is so hard to explain training to those who simply don't understand.  What I do is more than just being "fit".  I do it because I love it and I am passionate about it.  Triathlon, even more so than running, has been an experience of developing friendships with a community of like-minded people I have met along the way; it is about being committed to my goals and about pushing past self-imposed limits to achieve things I thought previously impossible; and most of all, it is about learning to exercise will, strength and discipline.  

It seems hard to find fault with those reasons.  

And yet, I still find myself constantly defending my choices to those who view that a 36-year old professional should stop trying to be Peter Pan and start creating a life more traditionally acceptable.  (Ironically, the concept of 36-year-old professional female is still so relatively new that it is unclear what this "traditionally acceptable" cultural role entails, particularly in light of many who remain subscribed to the stereotypical image of the WASP-white male professional!)   What is it that certain people find so offensive about a triathlon-loving accountant?  Is it the commitment to something in addition to my job that is an issue, or perhaps an uneasiness with the non-traditional role of a spandex-wearing female who is comfortable in her own skin and loves sports?   Why is it that physical challenge considered trivial and non-essential by certain people?

I see this criticism as narrow-mindedness, a complete inability to see that a person can be passionate and committed to something in addition to the traditional roles of work and family.

While I can certainly respect that endurance sports are not for everyone and probably rank as being a bit extreme to the casual observer, I have no doubt that triathlon has made me more goal-oriented and has taught me dedication, perseverance and even humility.  These attributes serve me well in my life, particularly in my career - I also find it hard to believe that anyone could possibly believe that these attributes actually detract from my career.

There seems to be cognizance and general consensus that exercise is important, but the common excuse of most people is that they don't have time.  This is such crap.  If you are passionate about something - whatever that is - you make the time.

Although triathlon can be a social sport, the workouts are truly individual and can be scheduled with regard to professional commitments without the risk of disappointing an entire team.  It is not that swimming, biking or running ranks in importance to work, family or any of my other commitments;  instead I meticulously carve time out of my schedule to make it all fit in.  It would be easy to make excuses and say I don't have the time....but with some ingenuity anything is possible. I schedule my workouts the same way I do any other meeting, and I stick to the plan - as a result, my life is ridiculously regimented but I'm happy that way.  I've learned to wake early and be efficient with my time (it is amazing how much one can get done before 7am!).

There is a huge commitment that comes with the goals I set for myself.  It is weeks, months, years of effort that go into training - not one day.  I have good days and bad days, and just because I am tired doesn't mean I am burned out and need to give up.  You get out there, you do what you have to do, and you commit yourself to being better.  This is not all that different from anything in life - it is not a single deal that makes a career, but rather the culmination of years of effort and the ability to consistently perform over time.  Does taking an hour from my day to run negate my success as a professional?  Not when a career is measured in terms of resilience and fortitude over the span of a lifetime.

The sense of personal accomplishment I have achieved over the past two years is thrilling and anchors me with an infectious love and passion for this sport.  I'd never have imagined that I would toe the line at Kona, but I got there.  I've pushed myself to the limit and prevailed. Triathlon has taught me that I am my own biggest obstacle, and that in order to achieve my goals, I need to be determined to take ownership over my own success.  Does this make you mentally tough?  You bet.  There is no corporate training session that could ever achieve the same mental toughness that running an Ironman marathon through lava fields in forty degrees teaches you.

At a conference this week I was reminded of a favorite quote that really echos how I feel about the criticism I get - 
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt  

Perhaps it is my own naive belief that a successful person needs to be well-rounded, and perhaps someday I will stop being Peter Pan long enough to see the error of my ways.  For the meantime, however, I will continue to be passionate about all the roles that I play.  And those critics?  Well, they can just try to keep up.  :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What happens in Vegas....

Traveling to Las Vegas to race a triathlon seems like a strange thing to do indeed, but when the WTC decided to relocate the Ironman 70.3 World Championship to Lake Las Vegas I was intrigued.  Heat, wind, hills.  Sounds kind of like a certain volcanic island in the Pacific, doesn't it?

In the days preceding the race, we toured around the course and started to understand why the race organizers selected this location for the championship.  It was clearly intended to be a challenge - non-wetsuit swim leading to a hilly and hot ride in the desert, capped off by a 3-loop run course on black asphalt.  Even T1 was difficult - you had to exit from the water, run nearly half a km to transition and then drag your bike up a switchback.  Yes, a switchback!

Race morning did not start well.  Note to self - remember to bring your nutrition to transition in the morning!  Upon realizing that we had forgotten our GU Brew in the hotel fridge, I set off on a panicky 2k run back to the hotel (in my flip-flops no less) to retrieve my nutrition before the 6am closure of transition.  Not good!  Luckily, the medical director was kind enough to give me a ride part of the way back to the hotel and another kind spectator gave me a lift part of the way back to transition so I made it back, frazzled, precisely at 5:53am.  7 minutes to clear out of transition.

A typical 70.3, it was a wave start and I lined up with my AG for a 7:20 start.  We were over 40 minutes back of the pro start and watched all of the pros exit the water before we even got our toes wet!  The swim course was one-loop in the rather murky waters of Lake Las Vegas.  What a strange little man-made lake.  It was an in-water start, so each wave had 10 minutes to warm up and move into position as the preceding two waves moved through to the start.  Even though the water was over 80 degrees, it felt cold and I was shivering as I treaded water, or perhaps it was just nerves.  The start was surprisingly rough for only 100 people and I was pretty battered around for the first few buoys.  I managed to hold myself together enough not to backstroke and by the turnaround had passed a few blue-capped swimmers from the preceding wave, but started to struggle on the return.  The sun was glaring on the left and I found bilateral breathing to be dizzying, so ended up breathing right only and stalling my stroke.  I felt awkward and heavy in the water and knew even before I hit the dock that my time was rotten.

Sure enough, some quick math in subtracting 40 minutes from the clock time told me that I had spent 38 minutes flailing around.  I was annoyed, frustrated and felt like crying.  The little devil voice in my head really, really wanted to was Kona deja vu as I plucked my bike off a nearly empty bike rack.  I had exited the water in 62nd position - almost 2/3 to the back of my wave.  Really must learn how to swim.

As I mentioned previously, the exit out of T2 was a rather treacherous switchback and my heartrate was jacked by the time I hit the mount line.  But along the way up the switchback came a game changing moment.  Several of the spectators were being really rude and saying stuff like "see ya later, suckers" and "glad it's not me out there".  It was inappropriate, rude and really, really got me going.

I may not be able to swim, but I can ride.  And ride I did.  I took the first hill fairly conservatively up to Lake Mead Parkway and through the no-pass zone, but after hitting the first hill it was game on.  The course was challenging and hilly, but definitely easier than Sooke and I had nothing to lose.  As Bjoern had suggested, I rode the uphills hard knowing that I could recover on the downhill and by the time I hit the turnaround, I was averaging 35kph.  My favorite moment of the day was the reaction of one of the men in the 35-39 age group whom I traded positions with a couple of times (me on uphills, him on the downhills). When I finally passed him once and for all on the final descent out of the park, he shook his head and said "but you are just so little".   

The turnaround yielded headwind and it was at that point that I became cognizant of the heat, so I dialed it back a bit.  I was also starting to struggle with nutrition - the aid stations were quite far apart and I was not able to quickly refill my water bottle so ended up running out of water three times.  The air was dry, my eyes stung and the back of my throat was scratchy and parched, yet I had to keep riding fairly hard to stand a chance to make up for my abysmal swim time.

By the time I reached T2, I was dehydrated and headachy.  Fearful of bonking or getting a migraine, I spent extra time in transition drinking water.  Three full glasses of it!  Without water, my run would be over before it began and I knew I had to pay special attention to hydration.

I'd like to say that I felt springy and happy coming off the bike...but the adjectives dull, hot and wilted come to mind.  The black asphalt was hot, so very hot.  The three loop run course was full of people as I exited T2 and there were spectators everywhere.  If the run had been more desolate, it would have been easy to surrender to the hot black asphalt, but with so many people around there was no chance I was giving up easily.  I spotted Bjoern almost immediately, and he told me that I had ridden myself into 8th place in my AG with a 2:39.

Wow, talk about information having an impact.  My heart leapt a little....8th in AG at the WC!  My hard work on the bike had paid off!

Then his next words put fear into the mix - "run as hard as you can, you can do it".  Damn.  There were only 4-5 minutes separating 4th to 12th place in my AG.  If I fell off, there were several girls hot on my heels that would happily run me down even despite the heat and the challenging course.

Because of the looped run course, it was very hard to tell who you were passing in your AG and whether they were even on the same loop.  I was passed very quickly by two girls who were absolutely cruising and started getting down on myself.  The run course was 1.5 miles down, 2 miles up, 2 miles down, 2 miles up, 2 miles down, 2 miles up, 1.5 miles down.  The downhill hurt, the uphill hurt and it was just damned hot.

What I rationalized, however, was that if I was hurting...chances are everyone else was too.  Those girls passing me fast and then walking up the hills were messing with my head, and by the third lap I had had enough of the tortoise and hare bullsh*t.  My pace may have been slow, but it was steady, and that was somehow good enough to keep me in the game.  I skipped the aid stations on the last hill and ran as hard as I could, passing two girls in my AG in the last 2k.  I felt really fast but I know better :)

Sub-5 was out of the question, but I ended up holding on to 8th in my division with a 5:04.  Am I entirely satisfied with that?  No, of course not.  My swim was disappointing and I lacked focus for much of the run.  Knowing that a mere 3 minutes separated me from the podium really made me kick myself after the fact.....but I'll be back for another go!

There were some victories - my bike split was the second fastest in my AG (one of the fastest female age-group times of the day) and I was able to bounce back from being dehydrated coming off the bike.  I played it smart, took the time to drink and eat on the run, and ended up feeling great at the end.  So while a podium finish would have been nice, 8th in AG is not terrible.

Big hugs and thanks to the awesome Vancouver team - Stephanie, Rachel, Susan, Stephen, Amy, Andrew and Mark.  I'm thinking Whole Foods should definitely give us preferred customer cards for our patronage this week!

Huge thanks and gratitude to Coach Bjoern for all the wisdom, support and patience.  You somehow managed to keep us all in line and still smiling despite the tough heat training.  

And of course, huge props to Speed Theory for your support and assistance.  That bike split goes to you.  :)

Team Oss-some!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Riding Miss Daisy

I'm so happy today!!  Speed Theory pulled out all the stops and managed to accomplish the impossible...a replacement frame for my poor Ora in less than a week.

So without further ado, I introduce you to the very beautiful and fast Oopsie Daisy!    

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Prior to his incredible race at Ironman Canada last weekend, my friend Doug wrote a very thoughtful and practical blog post about not freaking out before race day.  With ten days to go until the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas, his comments are particularly relevant to me right now.  Although unintentional, I find myself trying to gain control over the things that I cannot control (such as being obsessive over weather reports...42 degrees....really?!) and getting mired in the details and the "what ifs".

So, I methodically started making my way down Doug's to do list in an attempt to control the chaos.  I stocked up on nutrition, made my geeky checklists (and got laughed for said checklists), and put my plan together.

Yet, as much as we try, events beyond our control happen despite the best laid plans.  And sometimes the unthinkable happens.

To do list item #2 is bike cleaning.  This means REALLY cleaning it, with a toothbrush and q-tips if needed, because everyone knows that clean bikes go faster.  Plus...I love my beautiful bike and she's much prettier when she's sparkling.  So last Friday evening I set to work making Ora pretty.

And there it was.  The unthinkable.

An unmistakable, horrible hairline crack on my beautiful girl.  I cleaned the top tube again, desperately hoping that the thin line taunting me was just an apparition.  It wasn't. The horrible, sinking realization that my top tube was cracked.  The unthinkable was real - my beautiful, precious race bike was broken.

I was crushed.  Tears flowed.  The rule about not panicking, totally forgotten.  Sheer panic set in.

But, alas, I promise you that this story has a happy ending.  Those who know me know that I regularly wax rhapsodic about Speed Theory.  The folks there - especially Jeremy, Doug, Mike, Murray - have been so very patient and kind with me.  I walked into their shop two years ago with an entry to Ironman and a dream, and got from them in return patience, support and knowledge. And if you are skeptical, I beg you to read on.

If you are looking for a commodity, you can shop online.  You'll probably get a really good deal on your brand new, heavily discounted, late model P4 of unknown origin and you'll look really great riding those cheap Zipp 404 firecrest wheels with your half-price powertap from e-bay.  Triathlon is an expensive, gear-oriented sport and it is definitely hard on your wallet to keep up with the Joneses in the carbon, aero-everything department.

But is it worth it?  A resounding no.  The more expensive the purchase, the more you have at stake.  If you expect a warranty to be honored or if you expect any aspect of service whatsoever, then you deal with a local bike shop.  Yes, the prices are retail.  However, you are not paying for a commodity or an off-the shelf do-dad - you are paying for the service that goes along with your precious carbon baby.   You are paying for the expertise and the time of the people that you involve in your purchase decision, and for the help you will inevitably need when your bottom bracket starts to click or your seat position hurts your knees.  When I made the decision to buy a tri bike, Doug literally put in hours of time with me bouncing around options and ensuring that the fit was right before I committed.    Utilizing this expertise only to walk out the door and purchase the bike on the internet would have been an embarrassing deception.

If you are unconvinced and still sitting poised to buy those Zipps on craigslist, perhaps the rest of this happy story will change your mind.

I sent a note to Jeremy about 30 minutes after finding the crack.  Friday night, 9pm.  It was the weekend of Ironman Canada, the shop was closed for three days and the timing could not have been worse.  Yet, Jeremy responded instantly and jumped in without hesitating.  Less than a week after discovering the damage, a new frame is on its way. Not only that, but he took the time to speak with me several times and allay my fears.  While the butterflies in my stomach will not entirely settle until the new frame arrives, I am floored by the astounding responsiveness and immediate plans set in place to resolve the truly unthinkable by these exceptional individuals at Speed Theory and Podium Imports.  Their unwavering commitment to service and the product they sell, in my mind, is unparalled.

Cracks in carbon frames are remote, but manufacturing flaws can occur despite anything we might do.  For this reason, many manufacturers (including Orbea) stand by their products with lifetime guarantees.  However, it is the strength of the relationship with the seller and distributor that will enable a warranty claim. This story could have ended very differently.  Had I bought my bike second hand or had I purchased it on the internet - I would now be sitting without a bike for my A race.  Up sh*t creek so to speak.

Instead, I chose to deal with a local bike shop (and its distributor) who are committed to their product and dedicated to the highest level of customer service possible.  It is relationships that create a sound purchase, not the mere act of purchasing itself.  Jeremy and his team have gone above and beyond for me, and quite frankly, I cannot express enough gratitude right now.

Sorry, internet, this customer is sold.    

(Thank you - Jeremy, Brian, Doug, Mike, Murray.  You are A-list, second to none in this bike business stuff.)