Coastal Thanksgiving Weekend

This Thanksgiving weekend I spent my time in Victoria with loved ones, enjoying the freedom of drinking bottomless bottles of wine, overindulging in food and sharing in good laughter with friends and family. Over the past couple of weeks, I have really forced myself to stop obsessing over training and what will come next year and focus on, really, not focusing on anything at all. But in between the drinks, food and unfocused inhibitions, there is always time for a run along the waterfront.
Back on the coast, I instantly felt the fresh salty air fill my lungs as I deeply inhaled wisps of a thick, moist ocean breeze. It felt as though I was breathing in a lifetime of memories, and there was a sense of calm that washed over me. After living in the desert interior for the past few years I have become like a leathery lizard. Here, back in my west coast hometown, the ocean’s dampness brushes on my skin and I absorb the moisture like a sponge.
My last visit home was clouded by sickness and recuperation, and this time I was desperate to cling onto the coastal air with every last breath. Honestly, it doesn’t take long to feel reinvigorated by the trickles and sprinkles of fall rain showers, and a slightly chilly westerly wind. On this particular day I was pounding the pavement along the Galloping Goose – a long and winding trail throughout the city that makes a frolicking playground for runners, walkers and cyclists. With the gentle ocean breeze I had tears streaming from my face and a runny nose. Over-sized maple leaves flowed freely about the winds and flopped down upon the damp pavement like drenched lilly pads. The contrast of blues, greens, and even a slight tinge of grey amalgamated together to create beauty and serenity lain out before me. I miss days like these. I don’t often get to visit home much anymore, so I always cherish every moment, relishing in the local running trails and everything else this small BC city has to offer.
I grew up in this multifaceted community, and just like this trail, every road, park, building, and tree represents endless vivid memories. On this day, even with the trickling raindrops, there was still a milling about of active Victorians eagerly pacing themselves along the ocean’s shoreline, enjoying the exercise, company and simply the sheer beauty of the scenery before us.  I love the vibrant west coast, and how alive it makes me feel. The pungent stench of the now unfamiliar ocean plagued the moist ocean air and, despite my constant moving, the light breeze brings chills to my bones. Off in the distance I saw a bunch of kayakers peacefully floating down the calm waters of the Pacific and I deeply inhaled the ocean air and instantly felt a sense of calm, even despite my skyrocketing heart rate. As manic as it sounds, I could spend a lifetime simply jogging up and down the seashore trail, like a Forrest Gump on his mission to nowhere but to just keep running.
Life on the island can be extraordinarily idyllic. It has the charisma to take you places you’ve never been before. It’s funny, after spending more than twenty years in this seaside oasis I lost sight of its beauty, and often took for granted what lay just outside my back door. Nowadays, during visits that are often much too short, I have found my way back to appreciation for the magnificent coastal mountains, cool ocean breeze, great Canadian maples, and majestic running and bike routes. It feels so good to be home.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to maintain the “have fun, forget about the pain,” mentality and try to relax. Surprisingly, it’s hard to do. There is an itch within me that wants to be constantly tied to a schedule, especially a schedule of endless training. At this point though, I figure it’s best to to get it out of the system and enjoy the peace now, because the work is coming.

Kona, reflection and more non-training days

It’s Kona week. In just two days the cannon will blast a plume of smoke over the thousands of eagerly awaiting swimmers in the pristine waters along the Kona coast. It will signal the start of the grandest, most sought after long distance triathlon event on the planet. For many of those triathletes it will be a moment they will never forget and an experience to cherish forever. Almost every dedicated long distance triathlete dreams of one day gracing the world championship stage in Kona, but only the elite, the best or the lucky will have that opportunity.  Kona is one of the reasons why I am in this sport. As a kid I remember watching the broadcast on TV, thinking the athletes were superheroes, and that one day, maybe, I could live the dream of competing in Hawaii.  Even as a teenager, on a trip to Kona, I remember seeing the “OFFICIAL SWIM START AND RUN FINISH IRONMAN TRIATHLON WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP” sign at the Kailua Pier, and having a moment to reflect on all the great athletes who had realized their dreams in that very spot. At the time, I really knew nothing about the sport, other than its grueling nature. I still remember images of some of the final athletes literally stumbling and crawling across that coveted finish line on Ali’i Drive – it was inspirational. With a course that winds through mountainous climbs, lava fields, scorching temperatures, and howling winds, it is one of the most gruelling races out there. On this particular week, thinking about all the triathletes descending onto the course has inspired me to reflect on my own triathlon journey this year. The season was filled with triumph, defeat, failure, heart break, sore muscles, tears, laughter, joy, happiness, and success. I don’t even think there is an adjective or emotion that wouldn’t be fitting to describe the roller coaster that I called, training. Almost a year ago I walked onto the pool deck for my first workout with my new coach and two of my soon-to-be training partners. At the time I had a few sprint triathlons under my belt, but the training regime I was walking into was going to be a drastic change. These were Ironman competitors, and I was about to be put in my place. Only a few months previous, I was cycling along Westsyde Road, a rolling hills, yet mostly flat jaunt out in the country, which at the time qualified as my “hills” ride. Now here I was about to embark on one of the most gruelling training plans I have ever endured. My first hint was on this morning at the pool when my coach told me to swim laps with my legs tied together. At first I thought he was trying to drown me. There are still moments, even a year later, where I think his workouts are for the intended purpose of murder. Anyway, that swim was nothing short of a flailing attempt at bobbing from one end of the pool to the other. I was heaving along like an exasperated floundering sea creature, all the while struggling to mimic the graceful and quick movements of the other two swimming along with me. I felt out of place, but determined. And from that day on, that just kind of became my style – struggle to keep up yet push with every ounce I had to follow in the footsteps of those ahead of me, and they were always ahead of me. Some days I thought it would be nice to have someone who moved at my pace, but then I realized the faster my partners moved, the harder I pushed. With each workout I would tell myself to never lose sight of the fastest one, yet I would fail every time. And failure became my driver to continue screaming and cursing and flailing, all the while pushing the limits. Some would think it’s lonely at the back, always being last, but I grew to accept it and to thrive from it. Always chasing someone means you are always, always pushing. I became grateful for the expertise they shared, and even more so that, even through their own pain of the workout, they would encourage me along as they lapped me, time and time again. Reflecting on this past year, I would say my development as a triathlete started with the 5-peat hill climbs, gruelling 10X400 metre swims, and the endless mind, body and soul testing track workouts, but it was the group of incredible people I got to train with that really molded me into the triathlete I wanted to be – determined, driven and committed. The season may have ended on a sour note, and I might be struggling to find a rhythm in my recovery, yet looking back on the year, it was an incredible journey; a journey I can’t wait to repeat, only this time with a different end result. This sport has changed my life for the better and I can’t wait for the back-to-back workouts, tears, sweat, pain, yadda, yadda, yadda. It will be great. In the meantime, I will put on my pom poms, enjoy the quiet of recovery and cheer on the Kona competitors, but I will be cheering loudest for the one and only Melissa Lowenberg., a true friend and competitor. Mel, go get ’em.
Here’s to finally putting the 2014 season behind me and looking forward to the new challenges of next year.