Friday, November 28, 2014

Making plans

A friend forwarded me a great article describing Nicola Spirig's planned Ironman debut in Cozumel this weekend.  An Olympic medallist in triathlon in 2012, and an athlete of the infamous (and controversial Brett Sutton), Nicola is an incredible inspiration to me not because of what she does (aka race incredibly fast) but because of the manner in which she does it:  her way.

She is not only a triathlete and an incredible athlete period, but a professional (lawyer) and a mother. She has a life outside the sport and, much like any age-grouper, balances her passion for racing with real life responsibilities.  It is incredibly refreshing to see someone at this level demonstrate not only an ability to balance life, but a desire to expand her focus beyond elite level ITU racing.  By all accounts, the article indicates that the main reason she is racing Ironman Cozumel is purely curiosity.  Because she can.

Born an original

At the end of my "tri" season, I started making plans as I always do.  End of season always brings reflection and finality, but reinforces the things that make me tick.

I blogged in October about dreaming a new dream.  I was genuinely surprised at the wide range of responses - from support and encouragement to incredulousness.  But this process of creating intention should not come as a surprise.  Just as I took the plunge into triathlon five years ago, I am driven not by repetitiveness in my future plans, but by life experience.  Each year my motivation and goals evolve, and I expect will continue to do so over my lifetime.

I race because I can, and because it lends to my life.  I want to feel challenged, even a bit scared, of the things I take on. I am not interested in complacency or following a crowd - I was born an original, and intend to stay that way.  I am also not a "bucket lister".  Certainly there are experiences that I have simply tried and am not interested in repeating, but there are also experiences I will repeat because they lend something to my life that I need at that time, or represent activities that I have a desire to get better at.  There is no rhyme or reason to just is.  If something happens to be one-and-done, it is because I chose it, and not because I checked off a to-do list.        

Two themes emerged from my race experiences last year:  defining possible, and racing for me alone. These are themes I will carry into my goals for 2015.  

Defining possible

I was wholeheartedly and genuinely terrified of both Alcatraz and Norseman.  That did not make them impossible - they simply represented the opportunity to me to rise to my potential.  Did everything go swimmingly (pun intended)?  No.  But that is the amazing part of endurance activities.  The fear is magnetic - being on the edge of your capability, learning how to adapt and realizing that you are capable of much, much more than you ever believed.  Simply - it is defining possible.

Racing for me alone

I have been, and will continue to be, very selective in the events I choose.  Racing needs to have soul, an inherent attraction - whether it is the location, the terrain, the competition.  The spandex parade interests me not, nor does the "flat, fast" mentality - I want finishing to be a question mark, not an eventuality.  The reward to me is in the effort and in the experience - it matters not to me if I am fifth or first or fiftieth, how I placed in my age group, or what my time was as long as I put forth my best. The race experience I desire is me against me, the elements and the terrain.  Period.

Up, up, up!

The "epic" in 2015 will come from the self-powered adventure known as the Haute Route.  A seven day, 900 kilometre traverse of the Alps and Dolomites - starting in Geneva and (hopefully!) ending in Venice.  There happen to be a few mountains in between...23,500 meters of climbing in aggregate.  You read that right...meters.   Am I scared?  Damned right.

A few hills there...
Moving out of the crowd

I seriously contemplated getting out of triathlon this year.  The age-group experience, particularly in my most recent race, was no longer an enjoyable one for me.  Large races with significant male participation create a very challenging environment on the bike for a relatively weak swimmer like me.  The swim is a beatdown, the bike is a congested mess.  Quite frankly...I was frustrated with my experience.

However, I have been a single sport athlete before and I recall exactly why I expanded my horizons - because I love the variety, I appreciate being able to move between sports, and I believe that each is a compliment to each other.  And while the Haute Route will certainly demand a focus on the bike, I realized I would be remiss to give up on swim/run so easily after working so hard.  I would honestly miss it all...yes, even the pool.  So the change I choose will not involve giving anything up...but will change the way the game is played.  (Because, after all, it is my game and I get to choose!)  

So I took the plunge out of age-group to become a forty-year old "baby pro".  I have no predictions on how this will go, no illusions of greatness, but am appreciative that the opportunity presents itself to race off the front with the fast girls (read:  chase the fast girls).  To my mind, you can never regret a decision you chose not to make. The anticipated ass-kicking will begin in March!  #yolo  

No turning back now!
 And with that...the planned (mis)adventures of 2015 are locked and loaded.  Things just got real :)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Take no prisoners

Last Monday marked the start line of the long haul back to some semblance of fitness.  After several years of taking a notable break after a season of racing, it should come as no surprise when I return feeling sluggish, slow and out of shape.  As I huff and puff and lament how my muscle memory has seemingly faded from existence, those first few workouts remind exactly how hard returning to swim/bike/run is after a over a month "off".

How do the other half live?

Off-season is the time of "normal", as though this hypothetical "normal" can be defined.  

My training friends, for the most part, are not exactly shining examples of this normal that I sought to achieve.  One even casually noted to me that he felt a 50k race was a perfect off-season activity to keep "things fresh".  Yeah right.

So absent any kind of real role model for normal, I free-styled for a few weeks...

An extra glass of wine (ok, maybe two) on a Friday night.  Sometimes Tuesdays too.  Sunday brunch with no run preceding it.  A weekday alarm later than 4:45am.  No pile of lycra laundry or packing around workout gear.  No training peaks schedule.  A (gasp!) holiday without a bike.  Drinks with friends.  Carelessness about food intake.  Shopping...of the variety where you go into real stores (not online), buy real stuff (not bike gear) and even buy girly clothing (not containing spandex).

And, like every other year, the beauty of off-season normal is that it makes me appreciate how absolutely not normal that lifestyle is, for me.  I want to sweat and breathe and create piles of lycra laundry.  I would rather stick pins in my eye than spend a Saturday afternoon in a mall, and quite frankly, I love to eat but really do prefer salads over chocolate and Perrier over martinis.  Perhaps that is just the sensibility that comes with age.  Or perhaps, the reinforcement of years of exercise that have taught me to appreciate that feeling awesome is a life premium worth seeking out.

The other beauty of off-season is that it reinforces how much balance training lends to my life.  Dropping a training schedule out of my week does absolutely nothing to improve my productivity at life in general, in fact, it makes me feel sluggish and grumpy and absolutely aching to get back to my routine.  Again, I realize that sounds strange, but taking breaks to workout energizes me to be productive in my career and at home.  Those hours "gained" in off-season, quite frankly, make my soul feel a little lost.  I'd rather be busy juggling it all than missing the sweaty parts.    

Do it because you love it

So I am back to juggling schedules and laundry and workouts.  Off season is off.  Not "fully" training, but at least sweating again.  And I love it.

Early season is its own beast.  Time off certainly refreshes the mind, but is enough to make the legs a little rusty.  Ask anyone who returns to swimming or running after several weeks off, and they will tell you how much of a struggle it is to return to simply feeling normal.  The truth is, it really never gets easier... but is a matter of setting your mind to it.

Those tough first workouts are tempered by the knowledge that race season is a long way off.  In my view, intense training at this time of the year really does not lend to race season success.  In fact, I believe that too much structure and intensity only serves to damage the opportunity to recalibrate.  Forget FTP, heart rate, wattage, time trials, race pace...this IS the time of year to enjoy being active, enjoy moving, have some fun and not get too fussed about where it all is going.

Same, same but different

I firmly sit in the camp that believes that the human body was not built to train serious, hard and fast year round.  As important as rest days and recovery periods are in a cycle of training, an absolute break followed by a gradual return to fitness is absolutely needed for me to restore the mind and body for the next big adventure.  And, upon returning to a regular schedule of training, my training week purposely looks a little different than the summer months.

Strength, base fitness and balance are my go-to in the early season.  Workouts are not long, but they are very focused and technique driven - good form creates a better base than anything.  (I really loved this article from training peaks that speaks to off-season training.  Someone else gets it!!)

One of my favorite off-season retreats is hot yoga.  As the weather turns nasty and the long dark Vancity days persist (why is it dark at 3pm!?), the heat and comfort of the hot room is my cocoon.  To be fair, I am not a very good yogi - I am definitely more linear than flowy, and my class preference tends towards more "athletic" styles of yoga like power or hot (I highly recommend Katherine Moore's hot class at YYoga...amazing!).  But as a non-bendy athlete who focuses on repetitive movements and pavement jarring impact for much of the year, my joints and muscles are very thankful for the variety and freedom of movement.  Not only does yoga promote greater flexibility and range in a body that is not used to being flexible, but I believe that yoga helps ward off injury and compliments running and cycling by honing in on mental focus.  My head loves being in that place, and nowhere else, for the entire class - the world around just gloriously disappears for an hour at a time.

It is also the season of balancing the things I really like (running for the sake of running!)...with the things-I-really-don't-like-but-are-good-for-me.  Aka...weight training and swimming.  I would really find any excuse in the book not to go to the gym or the pool, so this is a matter of scheduling it in and just doing it.  And, true to my experience every year, the more you go, the easier it gets...but you gotta show up.  Don't over think it, just go!     

My version of fun

And slowly, slowly, it is all coming back.  I am taking no prisoners and doing things exactly the way I want to.  I do this all because it is my version of fun, and as a consequence, I get to decide exactly what that looks like.  And with that, comes the reinforcement that this is the way I like my life to be -  the familiarity of the routine, the happiness of a workout achieved, and the joy of feeling healthy.  

Beach running...a perfect winter activity.