Me and my crew

Someone once asked me what kind of support system is required when training for an Ironman race. I paused for only a brief moment before recalling the date June 22, 2014. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a hot Sunday afternoon en route back from a 200 kilometre ride, and I was starting to feel unusually tired, unhappy, and heavy. I wanted to burst into tears, as every pang within my body started to scream. We still had 50 kilometres to go, but after failing in the calculation of my hydration and nutrition, this was going to be a long, bonky ride home. As I slowed down to almost a snail’s pace, two of my training partners rode up beside me for support. For the remainder of the ride they stayed with me, even tolerating my cursing, spitting and delirium. At one point Vince literally pushed me up Cardiac Hill – a mountain of an incline just outside town. It was one of toughest rides I’ve ever done, and really the only reason I lived to tell about it is because of those who were willing to literally push me up a mountain. They are the same people who greet me with smiles at 6am on the pool deck, who find time to laugh with me between gruelling sets, even though sometimes we’d rather cry, and the people who have seen me shoot snot out my nose, with multi-coloured gels caked onto my cheeks, and salty sweat dripping off my nose.
They are there for pool sets, where you just don’t think you can do one more, and they step up and pull you along, worker harder, so you don’t have to. They are there on long runs, looping back, because no one gets left behind. They don’t pass judgement when you have to run into the bushes every five minutes, or look at you differently when you put ice in your underwear, puke up your breakfast, pee in your shorts, or otherwise start taking off your clothes in the middle of anywhere, because they have all been there before. They have been there through your breakthroughs and your breakdowns, and it’s because of this that we share a genuine and unique bond.
Beyond the high fives, hugs and other moral support, my training partners also play an integral role in the execution of my training plan. Whether that’s by pushing me, challenging me, or otherwise, simply lending me a set of wheels, or a chocolate peanut butter ball when I’m feeling bonky or cranky. They also lend me expertise that you won’t find it any book or online blog. It’s a simple gesture but I’ve come to learn that the advice from a veteran Ironman athlete is simply priceless.
At the end of the day, my passion for this sport is often fuelled by the people I do it with day in and day out. I have often said that I don’t know if I could do what I do without their support. Sometimes knowing they are there, whether it’s beside you or kilometres ahead of you, enduring the same challenge, makes this journey that much easier.
Just this past weekend, after a long 94 kilometre ride, we had a 45 minute brick run that I was dreading. No part of my body wanted anything to do with it. But as I looked over at Katrina, who had just completed her longest ride ever, I figured the least I could do was run alongside her as she finished her milestone.

 Sometimes we do what do, not because we want to, but because someone else’s journey that day is more important than how we feel. So, with lead in our feet and pain in our legs, we trudged along together, grumbling and mumbling, yet all the while knowing we would make it out alive.
As the season ramps up, the gruelling workouts are just beginning but for every one that I accomplish I know there will be sweaty, gritty, salty hugs or high-fives waiting for me on the other side – and that is something worth getting up for.

 

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Be patient, be humble, be grateful

For the past month, I have been sidelined from training with a knee injury and limited to water running, light spinning, and swimming, but road or trail running have been off the table. The one discipline I struggle with most, and at some points have loathed, and suddenly it was no longer an option. It must be a love-hate relationship, because every day I haven’t been able to run has been torture. My desire to run has become a flaming, burning passion that has been snuffed out.  Despite all of this I continued to put on my running shoes every single day. I have been limited to hobbling, limping or slowly walking in those shoes, but it was my way to remind myself to keep moving forward, and that one day those feet would be moving at a faster pace. The shoes are also insanely bright, and no matter my speed, they always make me feel fast, even if I was only hobbling or limping along. But this afternoon, as I slid them over my feet they appeared extra vibrant, extra bright, as if almost alive – for this afternoon, after clearance from my doctor, those shoes would be running again. The road to today has been a roller coaster – from a season-ending original diagnosis, to a couple second opinions, to a modified training schedule, to rehab, to limping, to hobbling to walking, then squatting, laughing again, and eventually go ahead to get back on the horse.
A few steps was all that was needed before I was grinning ear to ear. In this moment, my love-hate relationship with running maybe just maybe blossomed into true love. I was limited in my speed and intensity, but the feeling of my feet hitting the pavement in a pitter patter rhythm was a enough to spread a smile larger than a Disneyland happy face. I felt no pain, I felt free, happy, and alive. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this can probably speak for itself.

 As Doctor King once said, “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
In the grand scheme of things, the severity of my knee injury was minimal and its affect on my season could have been a lot more costly. Yet still, working through it has been a battle that has taught me humbleness, patience and new perspective. It’s a difficult thing to do when life is normally going at a million miles a minute – it makes it a lot harder to slam on the brakes without momentarily sliding out of control. Yet slowing down has given me more time to think and reflect. For one, I am humbly reminded of why I started this journey in the first place. It wasn’t to take a walk in the park – I wanted a challenge – full on with everything the sport of triathlon has to offer, from the good times to the bad. Training for Ironman is not supposed to be easy or comfortable. These last four weeks have truly cemented that my passion for this sport is unwavering and burns hotter than hell. I am also reminded of my commitment to raising money for Multiple Sclerosis, and dedicating this journey to those who can’t dream this dream that I chase. That may be the most humbling reminder of all – be grateful for what you can do. Even if that means water running with the grey haired ladies in the casual lane.
The next month of reintroducing my body to a full training schedule still comes with uncertainty, but, I plan to just keep moving forward. Despite the setbacks, the stress and frustrations, I don’t regret this bump in the road. It’s because of the injury that I will come out on top, more driven, more determined and stronger than before.

*Since the beginning of my 2015 training season, friends and family have generously donated more than $1,400 to the MS Society in honour of Rust2Iron 4 MS. If you would like to support my campaign, please consider donating here.

 

Swimming with the fishes in the deep blue sea

The ocean air breezed gently across my skin and I soaked in the radiance of the warm sun as Tracy and I walked along the rock wall of Alli’i Drive. On this morning, as I glanced out along the horizon, the ocean appeared incredibly vast and exceptionally grand. It was like a serene, turquoise mass of rippling water gently swaying in tune to the calm morning winds. I closed by eyes tightly as I embraced the salty air and the feeling of freedom and revitalization. I am a water baby, born to love the water, and a west coast girl, born to love the ocean. The crashing sound of waves, the rush of the tides moving over tiny pebbles, the bright colours of starfish, jellyfish and shells, the smells of changing tides, and the feeling of wet, soft sand between your toes, reminds me of a childhood of memories frolicking along shorelines.

As we passed the end of the rock wall we reached the top of the stairs to the small sandy beach, where we began to remove our shoes and put on our goggles and caps. Despite the warmth in the air, my teeth began to incessantly chatter, a sign of my body’s first reaction to nervousness. Although I feel like my soul is innately connected to the ocean, I prefer to feel that connection from a distance. For as deeply as I love it, I am also deeply afraid of it, particularly what lies beneath it – fish, octopi, crevasses, caves, sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, turtles, especially whales and anything that moves, sits still, barely lives or even floats.  In fact, when I first started triathlons I swore I would never do an open ocean water swim, unless I qualified for Kona.  Well I lied to myself, because here I was about to swim 1.2 miles into the open ocean where I would be an insignificant dot amongst all the things that moved and floated, including sharks, stingrays, turtles and whatever else lurked in the bay that morning.
As I hobbled down the rocky steps to the wet, sandy beach, I found a spot to sit where I could pull on my “legs.” Before I left, my coach gave me the bottom half of of his wetsuit, cut into two single legs. It would help keep my injured knee stable and afloat so I wouldn’t need to kick. They would also provide some slight flotation, which was reassuring at the time. Given there were no lane ropes or deck to grab onto, it was nice to know my legs were a little bit more floaty than usual. Although, it did briefly enter my mind that from the view below, I now slightly resembled a seal, which was prime bait for large, carnivorous sea creatures. Looking back on it now though, I should have been more concerned about walking around with the the not-so-fashionable look of cut off wet suit legs over my tri shorts, which as I recalled was how my coach told me not to wear them.

Looking out over the horizon of the Kailua-Kona bay I took one deep breath and plunged myself into a hesitant head-first dive forward and just started swimming.

For the first 150 metres, the water was amazingly clear, and we were surrounded by vibrant colours of darting tropical fish and a bursting array of coral. Every few metres I would I lose  sight of where I was going as I was more enthralled with the happenings beneath me. Here in the bay, I felt safe and relaxed. The water was deep enough for swimming, but shallow enough to prevent any large unwanted sea creatures from disrupting the peace. The waves gently rocked me back and forth as the tide pulled in, then out, but it didn’t bother me; I just kind of rolled with it.
As we moved past the 150 metre swim marker, the coral slowly disappeared into white sand and the depths grew deeper and deeper, and suddenly I felt much more vulnerable and my mind started to run wild. I kept telling myself to calm down, relax, be one with the water, but I couldn’t keep the word “shark” out of my head and my eyes darted at every shadow. With every fourth stroke I would pop my head up slightly to navigate my way through the waters and every time I would realize just how exposed we were out in the middle of the open ocean. The horizon was dotted with various boats, buoys, a titanic sized cruise ship and occasionally other swimmers. I couldn’t decide in that moment whether it was a breathtaking sight or simply terrifying. So, I shut out the dark fears of large looking sea creatures and tried to focus on the small, harmless fish. With just metres to go before hitting the marker, a large haunting looking shape swept over the ocean floor. It was a Manta Ray, calmly floating along. This creature wasn’t terrifying, in fact, it was quite peaceful.
As I continued on and bobbed my head up to sight I saw Tracy pull up; we had hit the 1.2 mile marker. The two of us floated there in the middle of the open ocean, just two insignificant dots, surrounded by a mysterious underwater world, and exchanging high-fives as we celebrated our triumph. We turned to head back, and a local swimmer popped up beside us. “Beautiful morning for swim,” she exclaimed in a calm almost namaste-like greeting. Tracy and I smiled at each other. For the first time, I was completely  relaxed and the dark thoughts of terror in the great, deep sea were gone. The journey back was much more comfortable, and my eyes no longer darted in all directions. I was calm, yet straddling the edge between fight or flight. I was guarded, yet open.
Once back on shore, we stumbled along the soft sand like drunken sailors touching land for the first time and laughed in spite of ourselves. I looked back over the horizon to see the marker off in the distance and smiled. I will forever be grateful for my first open ocean water swim, yet I don’t know if it’s something I am intent on repeating anytime too soon. I will always respect the ocean and what lies beneath it, and I don’t think I’ll truly ever lose that fear, but for now I am just happy to have survived and happy to have experienced the beauties of the great blue Pacific.

*A couple days later there was a shark attack on one of the nearby beaches and a Grey Whale sighting just off the marker in the bay. I counted my lucky stars for the peaceful adventure we experienced, and didn’t swim much further that the buoy line for the rest of the week.