Friday, May 24, 2013

Triathlon is a team sport

As the packing scramble and grumpy days of taper begin, it's time to get down and serious about my race next week.  I leave for Belfort, France on Monday for the ITU Long Distance Age Group world championship on June 1st.

Being a triathlete (even a part-time one with a pretty serious day job) has more to it than simply following a training plan, and executing the repetitive schedule of swim-bike-run-eat-sleep-laundry.   Whether the season goal is just to get to the start line fit and healthy or whether it is to crush an A race, I attribute my ability to participate in this sport not to execution, but to my bench strength.  It is everyone who so graciously helps me out that really makes a difference.  Bench strength, you ask?  You thought triathlon was an individual sport?  Think again.

You may not see them at the finish line, but there is a pretty incredible team that supports me in my tri-endeavors.  Without them, my triathlon exploits would be a little less inspired.

My family and friends who so patiently listen to me rant about training, travel long distances to cheer me on and sometimes even cook me meals when I forget how to feed myself.  They roll their eyes and collectively sigh when I explain my race plans and new equipment and my new gluten-free diet...but they still unconditionally support the hobby that is really sort of crazy and foreign to them.  I could not race without them, period, and am forever blown away by their kindness.  (And to Dan and Jill, who are splitting the Bogey-sitting duties while I am away, I apologize in advance for my nocturnal raccoon of a dog.  I owe you!)     

The uber-coach...coaching is more than just designing the plan.  It's about knowing your athlete, and knowing how to make them the best athlete they can be.  Bjoern is really, really good at this, and that's what makes him not just a coach, but the ├╝ber-coach!  He works me hard, he calls me out when I am not being accountable, and he enables me to be a better athlete.      

Technical support...Jeremy, Murray, Mike and the team from Speed Theory keep me on the road.  Amateur athletes are not "sponsored" - assistance is purely and absolutely a two-way street (and anyone who tells you otherwise misunderstands this concept).  The term "ambassador" is so much more appropriate, and any support is entirely relationship driven.   Thus, to be clear, I do not praise Speed Theory because of any "deal".  I make my equipment and store choices independently based on research, past experience and customer service - period.  I praise Speed Theory because they are, to me, the best in the business at ensuring I am training and competing on the best fitting and operating bike possible.  Similarly, Todd and the team at Forerunners provide the same exceptional service in the running shoe department, keeping my toes happy in the latest and greatest Mizunos.  Local shops are second to none!               

Body repair....Jess, my RMT, makes me hurt.  Of course, in the best way that hurt can hurt, and in a manner that somehow manages to keep these old legs going.  I battled through an achilles injury last year and can attest that having a great chiro (Aaron), physio (Timberley), GP and RMT on speed dial is absolutely, absolutely essential to being an endurance athlete.  You always hope you are not going need too much assistance beyond normal scheduled maintenance, but knowing that they are there to rescue me when I overdo things a bit (which is usually most of the time) is pretty awesome.

The other training partners and teammates.  Need someone to get up at 5:15am on a holiday to accompany a metric century?  Need someone to slug through a 2 hour run in the rain, listen as I complain about self-inflicted fatigue or understand when I explain that I have eaten 5000 calories in a day and am still hungry?  Want to commiserate about training load, iron deficiency and chafing?  No problem.  While it helps that these amazing peeps are as nutty as me, it is more than that.  Being on the edge of normal (because who wants to be normal anyway?!) means truly understanding why others are driven to pursue endurance goals - and also being in a pretty good place to support someone else.  Last night, I saw one of my teammates jump in to help another with a last minute equipment issue - it is that very attitude of camaraderie, selflessness and team support that makes me enjoy this sport so much.  (Geoff, Dave, Jeanne, Hoz, Gregg, Greg, Gen, Kim, Doug and all of lane 3....thanks for suffering with me - I appreciate you all enormously.  It wouldn't be nearly as much fun without you.)  

So thank you...everyone on team Frank Can :)  I love you all.  Race season is almost here..yippee!!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Richele the swimmer (the paradox)

par·a·dox [pair-uh-ducks] - noun
1.a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.
2.a self-contradictory and false proposition.
3.any person, thing, or situation exhibiting an apparently contradictory nature.


At 4:45 am on most Tuesday and Thursday mornings, you will find me in a battle of will against myself.  Whereas sane human beings are happily cozied away under their duvets, you will find me (at times unsuccessfully) willing myself out of my warm bed to immerse myself in cold, chlorinated water for 90 minutes.

I seriously envy my dog on those mornings, as he sighs in frustration that I dare stir at such an ungodly hour.  

My love-hate relationship (well, to be fair, mostly a hate-hate relationship) with swimming began at an early age, possibly somewhere around the time that my dad failed to catch me at the bottom of a kids slide on an Okanagan beach.  How ironic.  And no matter how many so-called swimming lessons or days at the lake I was forced to spend as a kid, dry land has always been more my thing.  Thus, 35 years spent avoiding contact with water at all costs.

Come to think of it, the only thing I can really ever remember hating more than swimming as a child was waking up early....  

So there you have it.  The combination of Richele + 4:45am alarm + 90 minutes of chlorinated bliss before 7am?  A paradox by its very terms.  But, alas, there is a third discipline in this swim it is.  

Not only is this contradiction terribly funny, but so is my complete inability to adapt to either the act of (a) swimming and (b) swimming in the early morning.  One would think that after four years that some adaptation would occur, no? 

Fact:  Swimming is quite possibly THE most frustrating sport to learn and practice as an adult.   Gliding through the water effortlessly?  Ha.  Picture a maimed seal, and you are getting a little closer to my reality.  I can either breathe or kick, but not both. Since these two actions are mutually exclusive in my world, I tend to choose breathing because it keeps me alive.  The act of kicking is simply my method of doing hypoxic drills and a pre-cursor to the "high-chlorine nasal hydration" manouvre, which is a highly advanced method of consuming water primarily through one's nose.  And once you get to the notion of flipturns or butterfly, you've just completely lost me.  I barely passed gymnastics in the third grade.  Add to that thirty-some years of inflexibility, and you don't exactly have a recipe for poise in the water.

Breathe.  No, kick.  No, breathe!
Fact:  None of my swimming inability is due to lack of trying.  In fact, the harder I try, the more I flail, and the slower I go.  Swimming is all about technique, muscle memory and grace - attributes I am seemingly devoid of upon immersing myself in water.  It is a sport where trying less actually yields results.  So odd.

Fact:  There is nothing sexy about goggle eyes or the smell of chlorine emanating from one's pores. Add to that the constant need to shake water from my ears, and it's just not pretty at all.  The one saving grace is that while I may lack the Lochte-esque ripped swimmer's build, I do have a solid grasp of the English language that makes up for my aquatic shortcomings.  Jeah.

Solving complex mathematical problems - 100m at a time.
Fact:  Early morning and I are not friends.  No matter how many times I promise myself that I will go to sleep no later than 9:30 pm in an effort to feel happy and refreshed at the pool, my amnesia concerning 4:45 am wake up calls is unfaltering.  You think humans can be conditioned?  Much in the way that hangovers are miraculously forgotten, I can attest that feeling like complete and utter garbage after having 4 hours sleep on Monday night is in no way recalled a mere two days later.

So why subject myself repetitively to something so frustrating, you ask?  Because not doing it would be a cop out.  Too easy.  I have discovered that although I may never be a mistaken for a Phelps, having a good sense of humor about things I struggle with (aka this whole swimming thing) is really useful in life.  I giggle when the swim coach tells me "200 race pace" or "800 race pace" because I know that moving in a forward direction while immersed in water, even at my one (slow) speed, is a huge life achievement for me.  

Moreover, despite the absolute battle to get to the pool and despite the fact that those ninety minutes pass ever so slowly, I can truthfully say that I have never regretted dragging my butt to the pool.  Yes, it is monotonous and difficult, but I feel like I win every time every time I make it through a swim workout.  Four years ago, I could not swim, I swam 4300m.  And whether it is the brisk water or overinhalation of chlorine or simply the sheer joy at being done swimming for another day, by the time I get out of the pool at 7am, without fail, I am quite confident that I can conquer the world.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

You bet I can!

Yesterday afternoon, I received a FedEx package containing my team uniform for the 2013 ITU Long Course World Championship in Belfort, France on June 1.  It was terribly fun digging into the package of goodies, which included both my tri-suit as well as great warm up jacket, arm warmers, track pants and a running shirt.

The quirky part about the uniform is that "Canada" is abbreviated into "CAN" on the front of the tri suit - so I am sporting the phrase "FRANK CAN" across my chest.  This of course has led to a lot of humor at my expense.  I'm just grateful it doesn't say FRANK CANNOT!

With less than a month until race day, I've adjusted my expectations but am looking forward to my first tri of 2013.  I will show up on race day as well equipped as possible for the day - this may not mean an A race is in the cards, but at the same time, I am extremely thankful that my health is starting to bounce back a little.  Coach Bjoern has been really awesome at adjusting my training schedule and intensity, and for the first time in six months, I am starting to feel more energetic.  The understanding that sometimes sleep and rest is as, or more, important than putting in training hours is an epiphany.  I also expect the welcome addition of sunshine and extra daylight training hours helps does the "I have a new bike so I must ride" phenomenon!
Pepper the P5 joined the Frank bike stable in March, and is finally seeing some off-trainer riding thanks to the recent sunny weather.  Yes, she is fast.  Yes, she is pretty.  And yes, I did have to give her a (stupid) name.  I wouldn't have it any other way!  Huge thanks to Jeremy and Murray at Speed Theory for all their patience and time in getting her ordered, fit, assembled and ready to ride.

Along with the joy of sunny training days and new equipment to try out, the fun of experiencing season "firsts" is also incredibly motivating.  The first century ride, the first Cypress climb, the first ride without toe covers (!!) and the first hot weather brick workout bonk. :)  With the long, rainy days hopefully behind us for another season, I remember well why I love riding and running so much!