Friday, November 29, 2013

Warding off the grinch

"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

Cue the season when the effects of no training schedule + too much food + social events non-stop + societal expectations all get wrapped up into a giant ball of stress.  It happens every year, despite best my goal this year is to ward off that grinch. Simple.

In the spirit of no-humbug, not taking myself too seriously and focusing on the things that really matter (like happiness, family and chocolate), I've created my own advent calendar to ward of the grinch. Let the countdown begin!

1. Make bike riding a social event. #offseason #noneedforspeed

2. Put up a real Christmas tree in my living room. Don't get upset when Bogey mistakes it for an outside tree.

3.  Wear an ugly sweater, to work. 

4.  Reduce consumption of $5 soy lattes for the month, and donate the amount saved to charity.

5.  Avoid overcrowded stores, shop early and give gifts from the heart. 

6.  Go for a Christmas jog with a client instead of Christmas nog.

7. Smile at strangers…on the street, in Whole Foods and at work. Smiling is contagious! 

8. Embrace the season, and the rain! Forget about tempo and pace, hit the trails for a slow run and mucky fun with friends.  #losetheGPS #runnaked 

9. Take Bogey to the beach, even if he does need a bath after.  

10. Spoil my niece and nephew. #thelouderthetoythebetter 

11. Write some Christmas cards instead of e-mails. Or, even better, just call! #refusetosendecards

12. Make popcorn and watch Love Actually for the eightieth time. 

13. Support a local, organic restaurant and spread the word about how good it is! 

14. Eat brunch and watch football with my favorite NFL fan. #lazysunday 

15. Renew my yoga pass. 

16. Tell someone how much I appreciate them. 

17. Skip swimming…and catch up on sleep! A rested heart is a happy heart.

18. Contribute to a family Christmas hamper. 

19. Wear red, and lots of it.  Refuse to wear sequins.

20.  Raise $2,500 for the Ride to Conquer Cancer before December 25th!

21. Tip generously. 

22. Attend the holiday functions that I always find an excuse to skip. 

23. Dream big dreams for 2014! 

24. Drink wine on Christmas eve. 

25. Avoid shopping chaos and spend the holidays with family. No boxing day sale can ever replace quality time with loved ones.

Try it!  You may just find your heart grow three sizes!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Norseman, baby!

It is absolutely possible to feel really, really excited...and really, really terrified at the same time.  And, so you know in advance, my current state means that the remainder of this blog post contains more superlatives than most would deem necessary.  Trust me, the words epic, formidable and legendary are entirely appropriate here! 

Planning for the 2014 race season took an incredible turn yesterday, when I received the news that I had been selected as one of five female elite athletes to participate in the Norseman in August 2014, and the sole Canadian elite athlete (men or women).  A journey to the Land of the Midnight Sun is in the cards!

The legendary Norseman Xtreme Triathlon is an exclusive, spectacular, no-frills beast of a triathlon.  Same distance as an Ironman, but ideologically miles apart.  Athletes are required to furnish their own support teams, and you are racing for one simple prize:  the iconic black finisher t-shirt.

Photos of past years are haunting and intimidating, but unquestionably breathtaking and intriguing.

The race starts at 5am, by jumping off a ferry for a 3.8k swim in the dazzling (and quite possibly, cold) Hardangerfjord.
Photo from
Photo from
This is followed by a 180k ride through the formidable and stunning Hardangervidda mountain plateau.  What race could possibly be complete without five mountain passes of up to 10% grade and an aggregate elevation of almost 5000m?
Photo from
And the icing on the cake is the 42k run (hike..scramble...walk?) that includes a 1400m climb over the last 17k to the finish line atop Mt. Gaustatoppen.  Oh, and if weather conditions turn, you get to walk back down :)
Photo from
By the time the enrollment window for 2014 had closed in late October, 1954 athletes from 54 countries had entered for the chance to participate (there are 250 lottery entries + 20 elite slots) .  Despite its physical demands and its remote location, Norseman is an elusive and sought-after triathlon experience.
The AG lottery stats from Norseman's facebook page.  It is one tough ticket!
Reaction from friends and family has been interesting.  There are those who totally get the allure...and the exact opposite.  The best response, from my father, literally made me laugh out loud:

"Uh did you read the info ? Is this something a father wants to know ? Were you unable to get on an Everest climb expedition?  Luv, Dad"

The following tip from a Norseman finisher, contained in the acceptance e-mail, fully epitomizes the ideological attraction of this race and helps explain why an entry is so desirable.  Simply - it's the mindset of the athletes, and of the race organizers, to celebrate the journey, to embrace the surroundings and to test the limits of the human experience.  It is accepted fully as an arduous journey over stunning but unforgiving terrain, to a finish line you are required to reach as a team.  There is no PB and no fast times, but you can absolutely forget the word "impossible" doesn't reside amidst the Norsemen.

Celebrate the sport, 
Love your support,
Enjoy your surroundings,
and have a great race.

Jumping off ferries.  Cold is the new hot.  Channel the inner Canadian polar bear.  So many possible themes abound.  Most of all, I am incredibly honored to be chosen for this epic adventure...and absolutely bursting with excitement!!

2013 race log

  • First Half half-marathon - 02.10.2013
    Sunshine Coast April Fool's Half - 04.07.2013
    Vancouver Sun Run 10k - 04.21.2013
    ITU Long Course age-group world championship "triathlon turned into a duathlon" - Belfort, France - 06.01.2013
    Ride to Conquer Cancer - 06.15-16.2013
    Axel Merkcx Gran Fondo 160k - 07.08.2013
    Subaru Vancouver half-iron - 07.14.2013
    Sea Wheeze half-marathon - 08.10.2013
    Glotman Simpson Cypress Challenge - 08.17.2013
    Ironman Canada - 08.25.2012
    Vancouver triathlon (Olympic) - 09.02.2013
    Ironman World Championship - 10.12.2013

Friday, November 1, 2013


Chasing new adventures and challenging one's fears becomes a rather addictive pastime.

One race on my "must do" triathlon list is Escape from Alcatraz.  I've just never had enough fortitude to actually take the plunge.  Don't be a chicken, Richele!

How apropos that shortly after midnight on the scariest of eves (Halloween), I should receive the e-mail that starts to bring together my plans for 2014.  My *lucky* pick from the lottery means I will be escaping the Rock on June 1!

Ironically, the first Escape from Alcatraz was proposed by a guy named Joe Oakes after he participated in the 1979 Hawaiian Ironman, and was held two years later.  Guess he liked being challenged too!  The race that exists today is a "tamer" version of this original race (it does not include running the Dipsea, yet another to-do on my list)...albeit the current version does involve hurling oneself off a ferry into the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay followed by a hilly ride through the Presidio.  Sounds fun, right?

Not so sure I will be diving in quite so gracefully.  Cannonball!!
Scary?  Of course.  But I wouldn't have it any other way.  :)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Three times lucky

Anytime I truly test my limits in a race, I know with confidence that it will hurt.  It is guaranteed that I will question my will, doubt my ability to continue and convince myself that this is unequivocally the WORST thing I have ever done.  For the uninitiated, racing an Ironman might seem to be primarily physical, but to the experienced is very much a mental exercise.   My biggest adversary is not the heat, the humidity, the wind or the other competitors, but my own mind.

There is also a magical amnesia associated with endurance racing.   Those moments of self-doubt and resignation are fleeting and almost always pass...years of racing has taught me this well.  Sometimes it takes minutes, hours or days to forget how much a race hurts, but by some ironic miracle, the painful memories also seem to be the most short-lived. Long-term memory evokes a day that was glorious, victorious and proud.  This is unequivocally BEST thing I have ever done.
All the races that led up to Kona?  Forgotten.  Long months of sacrifice and training?  Forgotten.  The previous races in Kona?  Also forgotten.  Long after the sweat dries, the bike is cleaned and the chafing heals, the mind barely recollects the low moments.  What remains is the vivid memory of a hard fought finish and the reinforcement that anything you set your mind to is truly possible.

The magic of Kona
No matter how you feel about the Ironman World Championship in its current form, the Kona race is irrefutably part of Ironman history.  Perhaps it is not the most difficult triathlon or toughest endurance challenge in the world (we could debate for hours what might be), and arguably it is a monster of its own making.  But, that's not really the point - there IS always a bigger mousetrap.  Let the talking heads and the media circus do what they do; the politics, sponsorships, celebrity participants and pundits are all an easily ignored sideshow.

When you step off that plane to the panoramic view of lava, lava and more lava, it gets real.  The wind and humidity hit you, and that glorious, wonderful smell of Hawaii envelops you.  It is impossible not to feel moved, daunted and excited.  It's freaking Kona and I'm here to race!! 
View of the lava field and the Queen K from the plane.  No one said it was pretty.  They just said it was tough.
Kona is, to me, a legendary race against the fastest Ironman athletes in the world, on a pretty bad-ass race course steeped with history.  Age group women going 9:15?  Incredible, and awesome.  There are few triathlons that attract the same depth of age-groupers, sufficient to outclass all local-race-rockstar-wanna be-fast-kids.  You either race as a tourist, or show up with a serious A game.  In either case, you better be prepared to be up against the best in Kona.

And, as if being beat by all the fast kids isn't enough, the unpredictable conditions make the course an enigma and a worthy adversary in and of itself.  Every year is different, but no matter how hard those winds blow or how hot those lava fields get, you know you will absolutely scratch, claw, suffer and crawl your way 140 miles to return to that seriously awesome finish line on Ali'i.  While enroute, you will swear yourself into retirement, and less than 60 seconds after finishing you will be plotting your return.  Euphoria, amnesia, sheer exhaustion...whatever it is, it is an addictive thing indeed.

Just your regular Hawaiian vacation...
The week I spent in Kona before the race was remarkably calm - very different than both other years I have been there, but utterly enjoyable.

As a late-season qualifier (7 weeks between Ironmans...what?!), my expectations were set achievably low.  Enjoy the day.  Be a tourist.  Don't take any of this too seriously.  I may not have fully figured out the devil that is Ironman Hawaii, but I have learned enough to know that accepting my inability to control the uncontrollable is the best way to approach racing there.

So...I enjoyed the scenery, drank lots of Kona coffee, ate my fill of yummy acai bowls, hung out with friends, did some light workouts (well, sort of *light*) and got drunk on Hawaiian sunshine and the smell of plumeria.  All in all, a pretty nice *training camp*!
Oh palm trees...I missed you!
My backyard....aquamarine sea as far as you can see, and dolphins too!
The lovely plumeria!
Sunrise swim anyone?  Fun times with two very talented and incredible athletes.
Aquatic WWF
Sometimes you convince yourself to do things that scare you to the very core, in the hope that facing your fears will make you stronger.  And you repeat those things, for good measure, in the hope that they will get easier.  I'm not convinced, however, that the swim in Kona ever gets fact, it continues to intimidate the hell out of me.

So as much as I'd like to say that I was really tough and didn't let it get to me, my 6am conversation with Dan at the pier really went something more like this...

R:  I'm scared!  
D:  I got up at 4am so you are going to go do this. 
R:  But I'm scared!
D:  Go swim!
R:  I don't want to!  
D:  Get in the water!

I procrastinated as long as possible, hemmed and hawed over my starting location (got bashed at the right in 2010, got bashed in the middle in 2012 - may as well try left!) and was one of the last reluctant swimmers that the race officials pushed off the beach at 6:45am.  I was facing my fear, albeit not in a very brave way.
Yeah, I'm in that mess.  Just seeing a picture of it makes me cling to dry land.
I joke all the time about what a bad swimmer I am, but I do really work hard for being as absolutely slow as I am.  And, as much as I have worked really, really hard at becoming a more comfortable (albeit not very speedy) swimmer, the non-wetsuit swim and predominately male field do not play in my favor.

The Kona swim has not gone well for me in the past, so I was game to try something new.  Aside from starting left, I did two things differently.  First - I started with a group of pink caps.  Experience has proven that jostling with males who outweigh me by 10-50% does not pay off.  While the female swimmers still smack, punch, kick and is so much less violent.  I'll take fingernails over body checking any day.  With the former, I actually have a fighting chance at staying afloat!

Second - I didn't look at the splashing mess of humanity around me because it freaks me right out. No sighting forward at all.  I put faith that someone in the mess was occasionally ensuring that we were hurtling in the general direction of the buoy line, and just rolled with it.  Sure enough, we went the right way.

After three buoys of continuous body contact, I got bored and started a little game which involved counting strokes until I ran into something.  This was a fun little distraction to ward off my fear. (For the record, my worst count was two, my best was fifty-two. In retrospect, I might have been a little off course on the latter!)
A little soggy...but upright, and moving forward.
After what felt like a lifetime of swimming and about twice as far as any sane person should ever swim, I reached the bottom of the stairs and saw 1:12:xx on the clock.  A pretty solid swim, for me.  Cue a little water-logged happy dance.  There were still bikes in transition!!      

As I did last year, I sacrificed a little time in T1 to ensure I was well protected from the sun. Slathered with sunscreen and covered with my awesome new Castelli T1 Stealth jersey, I was well equipped to manage the sun.  No amount of time saving is worth a sunburn IMHO!

Have I mentioned how much I love my bike?  I love, love, love my bike, and the ride in Kona is like nothing else.  Hot, windy, much fun!!
Pepper the P5 takes on the lava fields
Compared to both previous years as well as training rides in the preceding week, the weather conditions on race day were quite favorable.  The wind was there, but totally manageable.  I rode hard on the way out, then optimistically conservative on the return, waiting for headwinds that failed to materialize in any significant form.

My one regret is that I didn't leave more out on the bike course.  I don't regret the special needs stop, or the sunscreen stop.  However, I opted for my small chain ring for much of the last hour (on purpose).  It would definitely have been beneficial to ride with power readings - in retrospect, aimlessly trying to save my legs was probably not the best choice.  Still, a PB Ironman bike split for me, at 5:14 and change...and feeling great to boot.  I rolled up to T2 with a big grin and ready to run.

What goes up...
Feeling pretty pleased with my swim and bike, I was well aware that all the heavy lifting was after T2.  Confidence during an Ironman is best saved for the 40k mark.

A marathon is a long way to run, never mind after a 3.8 k swim and 180 k on the bike, but I knew what I needed to do.  Run an even pace, use the aid stations, keep my mind in the game and smile, dammit, smile.  I wasn't feeling particularly awesome at that point, but I did not feel too terrible either.  Given the distance covered at that point, not-awesome-but-not-terrible is pretty awesome.  Makes sense, right?

The crowd on Ali'i really helped boost my spirit, as did the various wacky signs on the road. Knowing I would get to see Dan cheering on the run course also put some zip in my step.

How can you NOT smile when you see race signs like this?
Floating down Ali'i Drive before things turned south.
As in Whistler, taking nutrition on the run absolutely disagreed with my stomach.  At the turnaround on Ali'i Drive, about 5 miles into the marathon and within 10 minutes of taking my first gel on the run, the very same, evil tummy issues came on with a vengeance.  I was running well...when I was able to run, that is.  I am not the first runner to experience tummy troubles, and will not be the last...but it is really, really frustrating.  (Any more discussion in this regard is just too much information)

The second time I saw Dan on the course, about 14k in, I was barely running.  The tears flowed.

R:  I'm sick. 
D:  You can do this. 
R:  But I'm sick.
D:  Go run!
R:  I don't want to!  
D:  Run!

I didn't want to quit, but was incredibly frustrated.  Running made my tummy gurgle in distress, and one should never trust a tummy that gurgles.  Certainly not the race I was capable of, but all that my belly was allowing.  Dan's confidently gentle butt-kicking, as well as kind words from Mark Shorter, didn't settle my stomach but were enough to settle my resolve to finish notwithstanding the less than desired result.  No more gel and cola.  Salt tabs, water and will power!

But it's my story...and I can choose a fairy tale ending if I want
I stopped feeding my upset stomach and gutted through the run (pun intended) in a rather ugly fashion.  Nature stops galore, lots of water.  No one said Ironman was pretty.    

The run out to the Energy Lab is truly soul-sucking but once I made the turn at the end of that road to nowhere, the twelve kilometers home seemed like no big deal at all.  A little hill up, a little hill down, more aid stations, a long painful hill, and the top of Palani hill magically appeared.  I ran a little faster. The last two kilometers of this race is beyond description - you cannot help but smile, run, and smile some more.  

You feel like you are floating down Ali'i Drive, high-fiving the kids along the finish corral.  Noise, smiles, cheers.  The woes of the day vanish.  It matters not whether you are 1st or 18th or (in my case) 924th.  It's freaking Kona!!          
Confession: I really just like this photo because of the abs.  
Though not particularly pleased with my run, I finished in the same time as I did in Whistler.  Not-awesome-but-not-terrible seems to be a theme.  A decent feat given the mere seven weeks of separation between races.  In Whistler, a 10:30 yielded 12th female and 3rd in my Kona, the same time yields 121st female and 28th in my age group.  Humbling, but still a triumph to's all perspective.           

Running away from budgie smuggler jumpy finish dude.
The journey to the finish line, whether you measure race day only or the race as a tiny piece of a longer journey through your life, changes you a little.  Racing has shaped my life and my outlook, and in such a positive way.  I feel blessed to have the opportunity to race here, grateful to live this crazy dream and thankful for everyone in my life who makes it possible for me.

I'm also acutely aware that there is a greater purpose than the journey from start to finish line. Though I count myself three times lucky in being able to experience it in my lifetime, Kona will not always be the aspiration.  As to what dreams, adventures, start lines or opportunities I will chase next...I'm not entirely sure, but it will be fun figuring it out.

Off-season, so far, has involved beaches, relaxing, a few happy hour cocktails and precious time with this wonderfully supportive, patient and incredible person.  My own little beautiful aloha fairy tale.  Pinch's all a dream, right?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! 

On Friday night, I get to trade this...

For this...

But also this...

2167 of the fastest long distance triathletes in the world.
570 kick-ass female athletes.
141 Canadians.
5,000+ volunteers.
140 miles of heat, humidity and lava.

Great big (scary) goals

140 miles (well, 140.6 to be exact) is a long, long way to travel...even in a car.  Anyone who has done multiple Ironman-distance races can attest that it never gets easier.  As I pack for my sixth Ironman and third visit to the Big Island, I am remain equally terrified and intrigued by the magic that is Ironman Kona.  It's the most daunting Hawaiian (non) vacation you could ever dream up.

Someone commented to me earlier this week that my participation in Kona is getting "old" - from someone unfamiliar with the rigors of training, I understand where the view comes from.  It must very much seem that way...but in reality it is far from the slam dunk. My perspective, having lived every ounce of the big scary goal that was qualifying for Kona this year, is quite different.  

Twelve months ago, on the back of heartbreak that came in several forms, I put before myself the big, scary goal of getting back to the Big Island.  As 2013 arrived, the likelihood of getting to that start line had faded considerably as I struggled to run even short distances.  But the very best goals should feel so very unattainable, they should make you reach past the point of comfort and they absolutely should make you dig deep, recalibrate and focus.  

The long-term focus became a day-to-day one that enabled me to redefine what health, happiness and power over my life looks like.  Defining myself was a beautiful side-effect that, whether I succeeded in reaching my goal or not, transcended any start or finish line. I get to, every day, empower myself to live my life with purpose.  It's a pretty great thing.      

In 2013, I learned to listen to my body, to accept that some days less is more, and to trust the plan.  Bodies and hearts heal...but only with patience, time and TLC.


Today, I have #1612 assigned to me, and the beautiful, beautiful gift of another start line.     

Today, I feel grateful for the love and support around me.  My ohana.

Today, I feel blessed for my health...and not just the physical kind. 

It is truly an aloha life.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ironman Canada...bear hugs for everyone!

Ironman #5...the lead-up

Five days before racing Kona 2012, I fell ill.  I would subsequently be diagnosed with pneumonia, and needless to say it put a huge damper on my race.  I put every ounce of determination into finishing that day, and it was a heart, lung and body-breaking effort that left me shattered.  Crossing the finish line was a victory...but not satisfying.     

Ironman Canada's new location in Whistler was announced and before even leaving the Big Island I had already plunked my entry fee down looking for my do-over.  Knee jerk reaction to a bad race?  Absolutely.  But, little did I know that the struggles in Kona were only the beginning.  Four weeks with pneumonia, then major surgery, then various surgical complications put me in a sad state physically.  Although my doctor told me it could take six to twelve months to recover, I admit that my optimistic ears didn't hear "twelve" at all.  I heard "six"...then stubbornly believed I could make it "three". 

This year has been a lesson in learning that my body doesn't always do what it is willed to do.  When you are used to being healthy, coming to grips with the fact that your zip is zapped in a way that you cannot control is a hard reality.  My spunk was absent all year, and I became grateful to just train, albeit at a load much less than in the past.  Two weeks before Whistler, my iron level continued to lag well below normal, purely abysmal for an endurance athlete.  Rest and recovery was a bigger part of my training plan than ever before...and it was a huge leap of faith for me to believe it would be effective.    

At 6:59 am on Sunday morning, as I treaded water in Alta Lake waiting for the start gun, my goal was firmly at that finish line in Whistler.  I know well from experience over the last 12 months that finishing 140.6 miles can never be guaranteed - but just arriving at the start line healthy enough to race was a huge win.
Painting signs...and himself.  Perhaps just trying to be a smurf!
Don't stress out

Racing in Whistler was a luxury, and quite frankly the town absolutely nailed it.  No travel hassles, no long hotel stay, incredible happy people all around the village - it was basically like racing at home.  We arrived on Friday early afternoon, breezed through registration, and settled into the hotel.  There was even time for an afternoon dip in the pool with the kiddies, sans poolside cocktails (boo!).

Saturday was an incredibly easy day, starting with the kids race in the morning and followed by the normal pre-race duties.  Lily and Joey both ran the mile long "Ironkids" run (pretty impressive for wee little toddlers!), then the rest of the day was low key, relaxed and awesome.
Game face in the kids corral
The panic station

My recurring nightmares about Whistler always involved the swim.  The prospect of being amongst 2000+ athletes in a tiny little lake scares me like nothing else.  Well, except for snakes.  And if you told me there were snakes in the lake, I would have just stayed home.

Race morning was perfect - a little chilly, but clear and not windy.  Alta Lake was foggy as we entered the water and I took my place on the mid-right, a couple rows back, just as Coach Bjoern had instructed me.  (Of course, I had to see a garter snake on my way into the water which fully cemented my swim fear.  Swim AND snakes?)

In my wildest dreams, I found fast feet and a quick exit out of the chaos.

In reality, I got smashed, bashed, swallowed water and backstroked the first 300m.  I stopped just short of full-on panic, and moved to the left side to find less congested water.  I wanted to quit, oh how badly I wanted to quit.

The hotel concierge that had dropped me and another competitor off at transition earlier had the radio on.  The last song I hear before a race always gets firmly in my head.  Ironically, the song was not only one I knew, but as I sang it to myself (off tune and badly mangling the lyrics) over and over during the swim, it was pretty fitting.

You won't get much closer
Till you sacrifice it all 
You won't get to taste it
With your face against the wall 

Get up and commit
Show the power trapped within 
Do just what you want to
And now stand up and begin

Doubts will try to break you
Unleash your heart and soul
Trouble will surround you
Start taking some control

My panic station lasted an hour, 12 minutes...about 5 minutes more that I'd hoped, but I was grateful to be out of that mess and onto my bike.  I got through the hardest part, and was committed to finishing.

Ride like you stole it

Swimming may be my fear...but riding is my joy.  I love, love, love my new bike and had an absolute blast out there in perfect weather.  Could not have asked for better.  The Whistler bike course is tough, yes, but it could have been so much tougher had the hot, windy conditions I'd experienced in training prevailed!

I don't use gadgets when I ride - no power meter, no heart rate monitor.  My 901XT tracks time to refuel and completely disregard any other numbers it spits out at me (those are for Bjoern too look at later!).  I ride simply by feel, adjusting my effort when I need to, and always (always!) sticking to my predetermined intervals to eat, drink and take salt tablets.

From the beginning of the ride to the end, I rode a hard but steady effort, moving from 122nd female to 12th.  (Yeah, I know.  Swimming lessons required.)  I pushed the flats and descents, and rode steady but easy up the hills - I felt great.  It's pretty awesome to rip up a bike course as stunning as the one in Whistler.  Time flies by when you have that kind of scenery.

My special needs bag in Pemberton failed to materialize, so I decided to take a pit stop at an aid station to load up on fuel and water, and take a much needed potty stop (oh the sheer bliss of fresh chamois cream!).  Pemby out-and-back was a hammerfest for the power riders (read:  men), and the small female riders at this point were getting overtaken by big packs.  Taking a little rest break let me continue riding my race the way I wanted to - at my own pace!  No way was I blowing my race by overcooking the flats before the ride back to Whistler.  The female riders (age groupers and pros) around me were doing a great job of riding legal - it was nice to see the other women were sticking to their pacing as well and not getting caught up in the packs.

The return from Pemberton to Whistler, as expected, was a bit of a slog and I reminded myself to ride easy, light and in my low gears.  Eat, drink, focus on getting into T2 feeling good.  With nothing left to do but pedal *softly* back to town, I turned my attention to my surroundings.  Whistler is a seriously gorgeous setting for a race - the view over Green Lake on the return into town is breathtakingly stunning.  If you missed were working too hard!  :)

Hang in there 

Almost done!
I exited T2 with a group of four other girls, and we quietly ran along until the first aid station.  It was impossible not to feel energized by the crowds coming out of T2 and onto the run course. Because the first part of the run loop is through town, I got to see friends and family several times and it made me feel light.

I felt pretty damned fantastic for the first 7-8k of the run and loved the course - the constant variation in the terrain made it possible to run in the moment, and it is so nice to run on soft gravel!  Because the course turns and rolls, it was easy to compartmentalize the course into manageable pieces.  Not being able to see a formidable stretch of road ahead of me was definitely a mental pick-me-up.

Unfortunately, at the Green Lake turnaround, my stomach was giving me warning signs.  I was paying the price for using nutrition I had never raced with before...and my marathon turned into walk/run/omigod where are the port-a-potties when you need them?!  Anyone who has raced a marathon understands this feeling - you just do what you can to keep moving amidst the tummy gurgles.  Hope for the best, hang in there.

It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't my best run...but I got it done with a 3:41 marathon and even had a smile on my face at the end.  The last loop through the village was an absolute hoot and I relished the last few hundred meters up through the finish corral (of course, not until after I had shoulder checked!).

Quick chicks! 

W35-39 podium!

The town of Whistler, the organizers and the volunteers absolutely nailed it.  The crowds were happy, loud and inspiring.

We could not have asked for a better race day conditions, and the stunning backdrop makes this an absolute must-do race.  It is a tough, fair course that makes you forget the pain with its stunning beauty.  

Final time was 10:29:36, good for 12th overall and 3rd in a crazy competitive age group (11 of the W35-39 went under 11 hours, and the first place went 10:01 for 5th overall).  I'm honored to keep such amazing company as these fast chicks!   

Big huge Whistler bear hugs are in order...

Dan and my family.  Your support means the world to me. I so looked forward to seeing you out on the run course and hearing the kids scream as I passed by.  (I do, however, know that you were sneaking off for cocktails between my run laps.)

Coach Bjoern and Steph for your tough love and levelheaded support.

Tamasin, Lawrence, Greg, Dave, Trina, Steve, Geoff, Ron, all rocked it.  Big hugs for the training and life inspiration over the last 9 months.

Each and everyone of the Team Ossenbrink super-fans, Corinne + family, Jeanne + Jonathan, and Geoff + Pat, who were out there screaming their lungs out (and giving up their weekend to volunteer...YOU made this event a huge success!)

Speed Theory for your support and that wicked fast ride, and Jonathan at Compressport for helping alleviate a last minute gear panic!
Hotel treats!  Yeah..I ate the cookie.  There's no gluten in that, right?

Monday, August 19, 2013


A couple years ago, I wrote a post about my taper crazies for Ironman Cozumel.  Feeling a little caffeine-deprived in my current state of t-minus 6 days to race day, I can definitely relate!  It's a familiar, but good crazy.  :)

The long hours of training may be over...but my appetite persists!

Two weeks ago, I commenced my usual pre-race diet of gluten-free / high-protein / no caffeine / dairy-free / low GI foods.  This would all be fine, except for my constant need to eat everything in sight.  When tummy tells me GET FOOD NOW (as it does at least eight times a day), having healthful, suitable alternatives readily available is really the only thing that keeps my weak-willed hungry tummy away from energy-sucking junk food.    

So, aside from having a really, really clean house, my spare hours have been spent getting creative on how to keep my dietary promise to myself.  Since the majority of readily-accessible convenience food is really pretty junky - greasy, gluten-laden and full of all the things I should not be consuming - it does take some effort to eat well.  That being said, it's so worth the time to seek out healthy food...and it feels like a victory when I discover a delicious new place!  

Some of my favorite new (and old) standbys...

  • Organic Lives, while pricy, offers some delicious and inventive vegetarian and gluten free selections.  The attention to detail and use of interesting ingredients is really unique...and yummy.  Their Vanilla Chai smoothie totally satisfies my fix for all things ginger...yum!
  • David's Tea caffeine-free tea soy mistos put a guilt-free hot morning drink in my hand in lieu of my latte.  Seriously...tea mistos are so yummy that I might be converted for good!  Lucky for me, they are located right across the street from my office (rumor is that they are also going to start early morning openings too...please, oh, please?!)
  • Culver City Salads offers up awesome, healthy alternatives to the typical food truck fare with delicious, locally-sourced salads and quinoa/rice bowls.  Seriously wonderful stuff worth walking out of my normal two-block radius at lunchtime!
  • The owners at SMAK saw a hole in the downtown fast food market and filled it eagerly. Completely gluten-free, locally sourced and fresh - this place makes eating well quick and easy.  Oh, and it tastes amazing too.  These guys are also pretty dialed in on is so refreshing to see a serious effort at recycling and composting being made by a restaurant.  So if you are walking down W Pender looking for a lunchtime fix, just keep a walkin' past that gluteny alternative meat and bread.  The real goods are at SMAK.    
  • Sejuiced on 4th Ave serves up amazing tonics, juices as well as vegetarian salads.  Great place to stock up on beet fuelled juices and yummy post-meal snacks (chocolate bliss bars...oh yeah!!)
  • Pizza is one food that is really, really hard for me to give up.  Lucky for me, Rocky Mountain Flatbread makes sure I don't have to!  Their gluten free 'zza is downright delicious.
(I'm always looking for more places to add to my if you have any additional suggestions, I'd love to hear them.)

So much time on my hands!

Aside from my preoccupation with cleaning the house and squirreling race gear into one (very clean) corner, having spare time is a downright luxury...and a boost to environment to boot!  Household water consumption has been reduced by at least a half (less dirty laundry, less dirty girl) and the dust bunnies in my apartment are hopping for their lives.

My endorphin fix has been satisfied by *not racing* a few running and cycling events (as well as Dale's impromptu swim race Fridays), reacquainting myself with the concept of exercising with no expectations.  Swim, ride and run is damned awesome when I am not dragging lead-filled legs around!

Gen and I cruised the wacky and fun Sea Wheeze half-marathon two weeks ago, chatting and enjoying the entire run.  It's amazing how much fun a race can be when you are wearing bright colors, smiling and not sucking wind!

Good reminder for next week's race!  I hope Ironman has dancing lobsters too...
The most colorful, happy half mary you will ever *not race*

This weekend, my firm co-sponsored the Glotman Simpson Cypress Challenge, a fantastic event that I have participated in for the last several years.  Not only do I get to ride my bike up a mountain, but for an incredible cause (100% of the proceeds benefit the BC Cancer Foundation aimed at pancreatic cancer research and therapy).  GS puts on a classy event: fun, empowering and yet a very sober reminder of how precious life is.

When the young daughter of a pancreatic cancer patient delivered a speech to more than 500 cyclists, her message was brave, inspired and heartwrenching.  Quoting Audrey Hepburn. "Nothing is impossible; the word itself says I'm possible".  Simply not a dry eye in the place.  With the $400,000 raised this year, hopefully a big step to making recovery and cure for pancreatic cancer patients a little more possible.

This IS possible...

And, on the theme of possibility, this last week before Ironman Whistler will be spent not fretting over the race, but relishing the experience.  The Frank Family super-fans arrive from Medicine Hat and Kelowna in a few days, my niece and nephew are armed with sidewalk chalk and cowbells, and the long weekend in Whistler will soon begin!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

140.6 Whistler...on the home stretch

2010 was my "freshman" Ironman year.  I have incredibly fond memories of that summer - those long training days, the never-ending feeling of absolute exhaustion and some pretty interesting rookie experiences.

It was definitely a summer of firsts, notably:

  • my first time being flipped by the wind like a piece of lettuce on my new triathlon bike, resulting in me quitting the sport immediately and subsequently being coaxed back onto my bike by my training partners;
  • my first 20 hour training week;
  • my first big bonk (root beer at the Bear fruit stand, anyone?);
  • my first time abandoning a workout in favor of pie;
  • and best of all, my first Ironman finish.

Being a rookie was terrifying and enchanting in equal parts.  While there was definitely a fear of the unknown (i.e., can I really swim/ride/run/crawl 140 miles before midnight?), there was consolation in the fact that many of my friends and training partners had previously completed Ironman Canada and were more than willing to share their tips.  Though it was a new experience to me, I had a lot of strong advice backing me up that I am grateful for in retrospect.

Three years later, and with less than a month to go until Ironman Canada in its inaugural location in Whistler, I am still consuming root beer during hard long rides, training ridiculous amounts, being flipped around by wind and regularly motivated through my workouts by dreams of ____(insert here:  pie, cupcake, slurpee, popsicle, burger).  There is comfort in knowing that I am supposed to feel this way:  endlessly hungry, tired, irritable and ready for the whole damn thing to be over with.  But I'm pretty okay with all of that. It's just Iron-normal.

The "first" this year is not the race distance or the training leading up to it, but the course itself.  And this time, there is no experienced advice to rely on.

Having trained in Whistler on several occasions over the last month, I have a pretty good idea what the race has in store.  While I certainly do not want to understate the difficulty of the venue, this is, after all, a race constituting 140 miles in a mountainous area ('s not supposed to be easy).  And yet, if I were to truly believe all the blog posts and course preview notes, I would be a total nervous wreck.

The hype is unreal...and terribly amusing.  There are complaints about everything from swimmer's itch to wind to rough road conditions.  Too hot.  Too cold.  Too hilly.  The water tastes funny. (what?!)  Scary triathlete-eating bears.  (Do you see any lycra in that bear scat?  No.  Just berries!).  Posted elevation not accurate compared to GPS.  Run route not lit with twinkly lights.  Seriously!    

It's all enough for me to declare a personal moratorium against all of this nonsense.

The one lesson I have learned about racing is to simply aim to deal with that which is under my control:  training, sleep, recovery.  Execute the plan, embrace the dark moments, deal with issues as they arise.  Accept that everyone else is racing the exact same course at the exact same time, and train to enable myself to race to best of my abilities on that day.  And as for the hype and the blogs and the facebook's time to forget about the things that simply are out of my influence.

So, off to Whistler I go for one last long training weekend.  Hills, heat, wind...bring it!  :)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The dog days

I love summer.

And not for the same reasons most people do.  Lazy days at the beach, patio time, picnics and fireworks are wonderful, to be fair.  But in addition to all those blissful things associated with the summer months, June through August represents the height of race season.  Sweat.  Bikes.  Sunshine.  Long days of training and the lure of all kinds of fun events to partake in.  

I returned from France / Spain at the beginning of June to the (joyful) knowledge that the next eight weeks were jam packed full of summer fun...of the triathlete persuasion.

Ride to conquer cancer 

Since 2010, the Ride to Conquer Cancer has been an annual event for me.  And this year, the sunshine even decided to show up!

It was two days and 310km of fast, sunny riding for a fabulous cause, the BC Cancer Foundation. This year marked my final turn as a co-captain for the KPMG team, and I am proud to have ridden with such a great group!  Our team raised a tad over $200,000 this year, bringing our total local fundraising to over half a million dollars in three years.

Participation in sport, to me, has to be about more than chasing fast times.  The philanthropic aspect is integral to time spent on two wheels, and to all those who have (repetitively) supported my ride with donations to the BC Cancer Foundation, I truly appreciate your dedication to a cause that is so important to me personally.  (That being said, you are not off the hook yet because I have signed up for my fifth year as part of the Wedgewood team!)  

One of these is not like the other ones.
Valley First granfondo Axel Merckx

Axel and his team put on a first class event!  This was my first year riding the 160k granfondo in Penticton, as in past years it has coincided with the Subaru Vancouver half-iron.  With a change in date for the Van half this year, the fondo was a must-do and a good excuse to make a trip to the Okanagan.

I have a soft spot for p-town, and traveling there in the summer evokes fond memories of my 2010 freshman year of racing, training and post-ride wine touring.  The friendly people in Penticton are incredible and welcoming, and make traveling there a worthwhile experience.  Particular props to the wonderful staff at the Penticton Lakeside Resort who simply cannot do enough.  Friendly service reigns supreme. 

My goal of a long, hard training effort...accomplished!  The highlight of the day was hanging on to the back of Trevor Linden's wheel for the better part of 100 kilometers (which I am sure he was less appreciative of), although I did take my turn at the front of the peloton as needed.  The lowlight was a tactical mistake at 120k that resulted in me putting in 20 minutes of solo riding through a fairly rough (literally and mentally) part of the course.  I'll chalk this up as good Ironman training :)

The very best thing about working hard on a ride is that it ends faster, and in 4:17 I was back at Gyro Park with a serious hankering for a slurpee.  Dan (aka sandbagger), at a distance exactly 60% further than he has ever ridden, cranked out a respectable 4:41.  There was grumbling that he would have been faster but for the *heavy* bike that I put him on.  If he continues to progress at this rate, I may have to weigh that bike down a little more.... :)

Team Wedgewood capped an incredible day with a fantastic dinner in scenic Naramata, where we celebrated our mixed and women's team wins over a glass of Hillside Estate wine.  A great evening of food, laughs and war stories!  

I won the bike draw!  How cool is that?
The kick-a** Wedgewood mixed team FTW!
Subaru Vancouver half-iron

I followed up the granfondo in the manner that any reasonable triathlete would, by racing the BC Provincial and Canadian national long-course championship a week later.  Sunshine, home-course advantage and provincials to boot?  I'm in!

Waking in my own bed a few hours before race start is a luxury, and possibly the most irresistible part about this race.  The streak of summer weather absolutely did not disappoint and we were treated to an incredible morning on Jericho beach.  Calm, serene waters with a backdrop of mountains...oh wait, that peaceful scene was before the herd of smashing, bashing triathletes got in!

For some reason (probably for a photo op), the organizers opt for a sprint-style beach start.  With just under 400 half-iron athletes plowing into the water at the same time, I have always found this start (particularly as a small person who is a nervous swimmer) unnecessarily violent and unpleasant.  This year, the congestion and bashing continued well into the second lap, particularly at the buoys.  Not fun at all for an average-at-best swimmer.      
What we looked like at the turn buoys.
Coach Bjoern was cheering at the mount line and yelled something to the effect of "now go do what you are good at".  That made me smile...and hit the gas.  For the next two and a half hours (exactly 2:30:00), I got to ride my wonderful new P5 like a crazy woman.  How fun is that!?

Because the event was a sell-out with 50 percent more participants than in the prior year (including sprint and Olympic distance races, as well as relay division), progress on the bike was not quite as uninhibited as I would like during a race.  Forward motion was brought to a screeching halt a number of times due to several no-pass zones and a lot of (what I hope was inadvertent) blocking in other sections of the course.  While frustrating in terms of overall bike split, my hope is that the other racers heeded the no-pass rules to make for a fair race.  On the plus side, the noodle through the no-pass zone was a perfect opportunity to eat and drink.

My fifth place out of T2 faded to ninth at the finish.  It was just one of those days that the engine was stuck in the middle gear - I felt ok puttering along, but had no speed.  Notwithstanding, I always enjoy the fantastic, soft gravel run course that loops around transition.  Passing through the crowd several times is definitely a smile-inducing pick-me-up, as is getting to cheer on the other runners and my teammates (who were kicking some serious times out on the race course).

Smiling through the pain!
Luckily none of those eight girls in front of me were age-groupers as old as me (!) so I was still able to salvage an age group win.  Not the most smashing of days, but a good consolation prize to retain my BC provincial champ status for a fourth year.  And besides, there are lots of dog days left to improve that run speed!

Big hugs 

The dog days would simply be less awesome without some pretty incredible people.  Huge hugs and thanks to:

Speed Theory, and in particular Jeremy, not only for your incredible support but also for the hours at the Van half race site doing mechanical assistance.  I am proud to rock my Speed Theory kit for the most awesome tri shop in Vancouver!

Coach Bjoern for all the time you invest in making me as tough and fast as possible.

My teammates and friends who raced, cheered and supported at the R2CC, granfondo and Van half.  Those smiles out there make it worth it!

My training partners who willingly show up for whatever the coach dreams up.  Really, who doesn't want to run 30k in the blazing sun or be snacked on by a Kits harbour seal at 6am?  

Dan, Jill and Mark for your support, encouragement and for accepting that smelling like SPF50 and waking up at 4am is just my version of normal.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

ITU long course worlds...channeling my inner polar bear

After a spring of rainy Saturday training rides, it was apropo that some decidedly Vancouver-ish weather accompanied me to France.  In the days preceding the ITU Long-course worlds, we saw lots of grey sky and rain clouds.  Indeed, it seemed fortuitous that the Canadian team uniform consisted of a rain jacket and wind pants.  We could have used some good-ol Canadian toques (note:  not beanies) as well!
Top 'o the mountain!  The (cold!) summit of the Ballon d'Alsace with my awesome teammates

Scoping out the run course and transition area.  Not even polar bears swim in that lake!
The pretty run course.

Pre-race was pretty low key as I tried to stay as warm and dry as possible, ignore taper pain and modify my body clock to the time difference.  3am jetlag suck!

I enjoyed gluten-free hotel camping with the best roomie ever, scoped out the course (hills, mud, gravel, cobblestone, oh my!), made a panicked trip to the local sports store (long undies! gloves! space blanket!) and sought out last minute physio for an injury of stupidity (damn you soleus!).  Spending time with my awesome, well-humored teammates was a great way to alleviate my normal let's-get-this-over-with pre-race anxiety.  In those three days, we firmly established the following to be true, for better or for worse:
  • French public swimmers do not hide well their dismay for silly Canadians who dare swim in their lane of the 90 degree sweat-box of a pool.
  • Steak frites may be the best pre-race food, ever.
  • Chocolate coated rice cakes are highly underrated.
  • Garmin GPS has no clue how to pronounce street names in French...nor give proper directions.
  • French sports stores do not stock gloves nor clothing made from Merino wool in the month of May.
  • Every street in Belfort is under construction.
  • Acupuncture is awesome.      
Based on the frigid water temps, the ITU made the decision to modify the race distance from a 4k swim / 112k bike / 30k run to a long distance duathlon (9.5k run/ 87k bike / 20k run).  The term "duathlon" is a generous oversimplication of the race - winter riding / cross country running / mud slinging / cross racing is really a more apt description.  Kinda like an ITU world championship tough mudder.  Appreciating the absurdity and maintaining a good sense of humor seemed to be the best way of dealing with it.

The telltale sign of the duathlon.
Although it was not unexpected that the swim would be cancelled, the conversion of the race format brought along with it a bit of to pace, what to wear, how to transition.  It may sound dumb, but duathlon is really a different sport.  It took a bit to wrap my head around the whole thing.  Thankfully, coach Bjoern was well-equipped to deal with our panicky queries.  And, being the ├╝ber-coach that he is, his killer run-bike-run workout two weeks previous looked like utter genius!

Thankfully, the weather folks in France as are poor at their jobs as the ones in Vancouver and race morning turned out not nearly as dreadful as initially predicted.  Under a 9 degree grey sky, the rain threatened but did not appear in any great amount.  It was humid and chilly - and a complete mud pit in transition.

Due to 90 percent humidity, I made the decision to run in my tri suit only and pull my newly acquired French polyester long underwear, gloves and vest on for the ride.  No point in being soaked with sweat.  Huddled at the start line in our garbage bags, Gen and I looked very much the idiot Canadians while channeling our inner polar bears in our skimpy tri suits.

Saving money on team uniforms at the start.  Who needs spandex when you have Glad?  
Run #1 was a wave start, my wave which included all women up to the age of 44.  It was basically like a cross-country race, with a lot of pushing and jostling onto the gravel trail.  One poor girl wiped out within a few feet of the start, and was trampled.  Within a few minutes, we had caught the men's wave in front of us and it was extremely congested for the first kilometers.  My injury of stupidity nagged, particularly on the uphill sections, so I held back a bit, assuring myself it was better to finish the race than risk injury in the first part of the race.  The run course was tough, but extremely pretty.

Run #1.  Go Polar Bears Go!
T2 was "interesting".  My brain had not locked on to the concept of running before riding, and I made a couple of mistakes, including forgetting to take my runners off!  My body was not happy at me at all for the first 30-40 minutes of the ride.  Run, then ride like a woman possessed...what kind of madness is this?!  Furthermore, my equipment (Cervelo R5, no aerobars) initially felt like a poor choice.  With false flats and headwind, it felt like I was riding with two flat tires.  I even stopped at one point to check!

No females were passing me, I rationalized that everyone must be feeling the same sluggishness.  That being said, a TT bike would have definitely been the better choice at the beginning of the ride.  My splits indicated I lost about 2 minutes compared to my competitors in the first section.  As soon as the up/down and technical riding started, however, I was very comfortable on the R5 and enjoyed a lot of confidence in the descents.

The wicked climb and descent of the Ballon d'Alsace was the highlight of the day.  The ascent started well in advance of the "posted" climb, and was about 25k of up, up, up including the last 11k kick up the Ballon.  Sweat inducing, seemingly never-ending climb (how can a 28 cog can feel so hard?  Did someone switch my cassette?  I feel like barfing.  Damn you Euro super-cyclists!), followed by an absolutely wild ride on the way down.  Flinging yourself down a pitch of technical switchbacks is really kinda nuts.

Stock photo of the ascent.  Fun!

The elevation profile of the ride...hilly awesomeness.  Why isn't every tri like this?!
Though I felt well-trained well for the climb given my recent training block, channeling a polar bear was really all I had on the way down the Ballon.  It was very much like the cold descents down Mount Baker or Cypress that I am accustomed to...minus proper cold weather gear.  My hands and bare legs were absolutely freezing as I descended the switchbacks, and my poor legs cramped viciously on the way down.  Though after the race, every racer I spoke to described the same wicked, uncontrollable cramping, it was quite disconcerting at the time.

T2 was incredibly slow - I picked up my bike a la cross racing to get through the mucky transition, and my frozen fingers and cramped legs declined to cooperate to put my shoes on.  A volunteer helped me put on my shoes, or I may never have left T2.  My quads, hamstrings and calves twitched in warning every step - if I stopped, they were stopping too. I talked myself along a kilometer at a time...running with quick feet and power-walking when I needed to.  Upon crossing the finish line, I found myself unable to walk.  Thankfully, my legs waited until 20.1 kilometers to give up!

The end of run #2.  Legs please don't fail me now!
The entire Canadian contingent showed great fortitude (and an equally great sense of humour), and my amazing roommate Rachel kicked a** with 3rd overall in the pro category.  Evidence of the power of chocolate rice cakes!  It was incredibly fun to race with teammates - huge thanks to Rachel, Gen, Lawrence, Don and the rest of Team O for their company, support and humour, Joyce and Dave for keeping us all in line, Coach Bjoern for his unwavering guidance and everyone from Vancouver who was out supporting during the day!

I'm chuffed that six months post-surgery I was able to compete somewhat reasonably at this level.  I didn't kill it...but it didn't kill me either.  A work in progress!  All in all, it was a fun, never-to-be-duplicated muddy and absurd experience made most memorable by my teammates, the rest of Team Canada and their support squads.

And, needless to say...when the race was over and the holiday began, I caught the first flight out to sunnier, warmer climes :)

SUNSHINE!!!!!  No polar bears here.