Embracing my mistakes – IM Canada

I stepped into the slightly choppy and cool waters of Alta Lake on race morning with quiet confidence. Over the past six weeks, the pieces of the puzzle had finally begun falling into place for me and all I had to do was push them together. It seemed simple enough.
Moments after the gun blasted, I followed my training partner, Tracy, into deeper water and dove in. Almost immediately I felt the swirl of the draft pull me along. Slightly ahead of me, I could see her feet kicking away as they stuck out from the bottoms of her black and purple lined wetsuit. I kicked ahead towards her and hung on. Ever so often I would look just slightly upwards to follow along. By the last turn buoy on the second lap though, I lost her and was greeted by a chaos of bodies. I was forced to fight my way through to open water as I practically grabbed legs and other body parts to move them out of my way. The second lap was tougher and slower as I worked harder to sight and fight myself through the water.

When my hands finally hit the grainy, wet sand back towards shore, I looked down at my watch and was ecstatic to see a 1:12 time. This was an incredible start to the day – I couldn’t wait to get on my bike.
Almost immediately after turning right onto Highway 99, I felt a kick of wind. I knew this was going to be a challenging ride. By the time I was 120 kilometres in and riding the flats in Pemberton, I could really feel the wind and heat. Cruising along at a respectably quick pace without too much exertion was a good sign that the ride back would be tough. And, adding to the impending misery, I was also beginning to feel waves of nausea hit me like a ton of bricks. I brushed it off thinking I was sick of drinking warm, goopy, sugary concentrate. Then again, perhaps it was also some foreshadowing I should not have ignored.
After climbing back into Whistler through hot hell and wind, I hit the ground, literally running. For the first few kilometres I was in a comfortable pace ensuring not to go out too fast. Then a few kilometres later, that wave of nausea came back to haunt me with a wrenching pain that sat on top of my gut like a large, hard rock. I was not long into my marathon and I was already growing anxious with what this would mean for the rest of my day. The run had been my downfall last year, I was hell bent on not letting that happen again.

At the next aid station, I hurled myself into a porta-potty and proceeded to hurl out my guts. I was shocked at the amount of liquid that seemed to pour out of me, and in a variety of colours. I was worried about losing that much water but I had to get rid of the pain. Once I was sure there was nothing left, I hurled myself back out the door and onto the run course. My cadence picked back up and I felt like a new person – smiling and ready to rock it.

It was about 15 kilometres later when the hard, large and painful rock in my gut came back. The nausea slowly creeped back in too and the pain started to feel intolerable. Again, I hurled out my guts but this time it did nothing to help. My pace was slowing and I knew my body was quitting on me. Eventually, I was reduced to a walk. At times, I held my arms above my head, then massaged my guts, then tried to eat or drink, but there was no reprieve. I couldn’t keep anything down and my race went from competing to survival.

For the kilometres that I walked, I carried a heavy burden. While slowly watching the time on my watch tick away, I felt like someone was ripping at my heart. There were waves of nausea, coupled by waves of disappointment, followed by seizing in my legs. Learning how to embrace disappointment and carry on is a difficult thing to do.

With about 9 kilometres to go, as the pain had mildly subsided, I gave myself no other option but to run. Every pounding step ached in my legs, in my heart, in my guts, yet I was not willing to walk another step. The finish chute, when it finally came, was anti climatic – I just wanted it to be over. I held my head high, shoulders back, smiled, and high-fived complete strangers, but I could barely raise my arms at the finish line.

In the days after my race, I have struggled immensely with a darkness of disappointment. What was supposed to be a massive PB day for me ended in heartache. Looking back on my day, I now know that I made a costly tactical error in my hydration and nutrition. My body shut down because of a mistake that I made. That is a difficult realization to come to. My journey to the start line of Ironman this year was not just about the past eight months, it was about the past four years – four years of dedication, sacrifice and bloody hard work. I had a different ending that I had rehearsed in my mind, not this one.

If you had asked me while I was out walking on that course what my next plans for racing would be, I would have told you, firstly to fuck off (yes, I was in a dark place) and secondly that I was never going to swim, bike or run ever again. Even a couple days ago, I would have called this race and myself a failure. Today, after looking at this experience with a much clearer and more rational mind, I’m celebrating what did go right and I’m embracing this mistake as a learning opportunity and I’m moving on. “Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” I can’t wait to get back on the horse and try again. 


Final week!

At least once a month since February, I’ve been asked the same question, “when is your race?” And for the past five months, I’ve talked about it like it was a far off event, some time in the future, and not worthy of much discussion. But as February turned into March and March into April, July seemed to arrive in the blink of an eye. I’ve gone from not thinking much of it to, “holy, shit, it’s next week!” Then the accompanying, familiar waves of anxiety and nerves kick in, and my mouth gets dry and my stomach turns somersaults. It’s kind of like knowing an old friend is coming back to town for a visit, but you can’t quite recall if the last time you saw them it was fun or the worst experience of your life. Race day can be like that – fun, terrible, exciting and terrifying, all at the same time.

I’ve been here twice before, yet the same feelings plague me. I start to obsess over the weather, checking it multiple times a day, even though I know it will change a million times before race morning. I overthink everything, including asking the “what if” question, over and over again. What if it’s freezing cold? What if I get sick? What if I crash my bike? What if I cramp and can’t run? I obsess over my weight, hoping to lose just five more pounds, yet knowing very well that at this stage of the game, it won’t change much. I obsess over my bike and every little sound it makes, and wonder if it will fail me. My thought processes are ridiculous and massively neurotic.

The final month is the hardest. We have just finished the biggest training block of the season, where every day felt harder than the last, and now the mileage and hours taper off, and I’m left with more hours in the day to think.

Coming back to race this year was not always a sure thing in my mind. After my first Ironman, I knew almost right away I wanted to do it again, but after the second one, I wasn’t sure. Did I want to go through another year of training with no guarantee that I would have a better race? Did I love it enough to keep going? Did I have the commitment? By October, I had my answer but the following few months were tough. December felt darker, snowier, colder and longer than usual, and became the month of missed workouts. I was getting back into the swing of things by February but even still my dedication was wavering. There were nights of tears, doubts, meltdowns and second guessing myself. It wasn’t until about mid-March when I finally felt like I was gaining traction, both physically and mentally. And, ever since, things have just fallen into place. It became like clockwork, and I felt like I was chasing something again. With one week to go, I feel strong, healthy, happy, and more ready for race day than any other year. I guess that’s the complete package, four years in the making.
This race isn’t just about the past eight months, it is about the past four years. When I first started in triathlon, I thought I would be a one and done Ironman, yet here I am. Not only did I fall in love with this sport, but I am obsessed and driven to continue pushing my limits and seeing how far I can go – one Ironman wasn’t enough. The first year was about finishing, the second year was about chasing new limits, the third year is about pushing further. These years have been an adventure with more ups and downs than I ever thought I would experience. I was tested mentally and physically, I was pushed to my limits and beyond. I learned balance and compromise, patience, and how to listen to myself and how to know when to tell myself to shut up. Like every athlete, I’ve been through injuries and illness and I’ve learned how to battle back. And, through disappointment and anger, I’ve learned how to use it to fuel my inner beast.

As I hit the final week, I can practically hear the clock tick-tocking down in my mind. I am nervous, yet a bit nostalgic, thinking ahead to what will be, but also reflecting back on what has been. The work is done and I am proud of the season that was – despite the rocky start. I eventually found my grove and I know I’m leaving behind a year I can call successful. Race day is the final bow on package and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Victoria 70.3

It’s been four weeks since my half ironman in Victoria. One month goes by so quick at this time of year. As training mileage goes up, the pace of life goes up. It’s train, work, train, sleep, eat, repeat. I almost start to feel a bit robotic in my routines and wonder if and when I’ll have time to do the simple things – a load of laundry, vacuum, or even visit with friends. The fact that I have time and energy to sit down, reflect and write is my impressive feat for today.  Others would argue it was the 40K time trial in the morning or the 12K run in the blistering heat this afternoon, but to me, that’s just part of the routine – part of the final four week push to Ironman.

Although it was a month ago, Victoria is still quite fresh in my mind. I remember the days leading up to the race being very hectic. Work was keeping me more busy than usual and I was, at times, literally flying from one event to the next. There were late nights in the office, travel days down to the coast, and fitting training time in became a bit exhausting. Then there was the back and forth with the bike shop trying to get my new time trial bike, race ready. I don’t think I could have thrown anything else into the mix – I was firing on all cylinders.

Once I got to the island though, things seemed to settle down and then it was just a matter of going through the routine motions before the race.

On race morning, I was calm, relaxed and ready. As always, I showed up as early as possible to allow myself the time to go through my rituals of tinkering with my bike, strategically laying out my transition spot and methodically putting on my wetsuit.

By 6:08 a.m., the rolling start to the swim began, and I seeded myself accordingly, hoping to churn out a 35 minute time. Within 100 metres I thought I might just be lucky enough to survive. The water was chaotic and everything turned into an all out hammer fest. I don’t know where some people were going, but at least three people swam over top of me, at least twice I was kicked or punched in the face, and I had to put my goggles back on my eyes, all the while trying to keep swimming. It was like being caught in a stampede and if you stop or stumble, you’ll get trampled, or in this case, drown. It was, by far, the most aggressive swim I’ve ever been in, and for the first time since I’ve been racing, I felt uncomfortable in the water.

As I reached the last turn buoy to come back to shore, I took a wide turn, desperate for some open water. Although finding some feet and taking advantage of the draft would have been to my benefit, I just needed some space and was really hoping not to be clobbered for the swim back.

As I approached the swim finish chute, I was certain that after spending half the swim trying to out muscle all the flailing, my time would be slow. But as I ran up on shore, and looked down at my watch, there is was, 35 minutes. I was stoked. Maybe an aggressive swim works for me.

Running into transition, I reminded myself to slow down a bit, take a few deep breaths and not to hammer out of there. I’ve been working to slow my transitions down a bit, which is the exact opposite of what most athletes are striving to do. I’ve been known for my blazing transition times. I don’t have a tea party – it’s get in, get out. But knowing my race times aren’t within seconds of a podium finish, I’ve tried to allow myself to slow down just a bit. It actually makes for a much smoother transition for me if I’m not red lining at 100 miles per hour when going from the swim to the bike and bike to run. Still, looking back at the times, they were fast, but at least I allowed myself an extra 10 seconds to breathe.

The bike course, same as last year, was technical. There were quite a few tight turns, lots of small rolling hills and not much of an opportunity to settle into a rhythm. Just as quick as I got into the TT position, I was sitting back up again to climb a hill or turn a corner without taking out a competitor. Nonetheless, I hammered through it and felt the wobbly in my legs coming into transition.

While racking my bike, I could hear my family cheering me on from the sidelines. The sound of their voices put a pep in my concrete legs as I threw on my shoes and hat and fumbled with my race belt. Having a support squad on race day, especially family, is one of the best feelings about racing. I don’t know if they will truly ever understand how much their support impacts my day.
My run felt strong. Other than my traditional stop in the porta-potty at the first aid station, I tried to keep up a consistent pace and rhythm. There were moments of pain and wanting to walk, but I wouldn’t allow it. Over the years, just as I’ve seen physical gains, I’ve also grown stronger and tougher mentally. There is no quitting. It’s all about taking one kilometre at a time, and finding ways to get through each one.

By the time, I hit the final stretch, I was ready to celebrate. As per every race finish, I flipped my neon hat backwards and enjoyed hamming up the crowd and every last step through the finish chute.

My final time of the day was 5:41:07, which is a bit slower than last year, but when I break it down, overall I had a stronger race. My wins were a great swim, shaving 20 seconds off my run and placing 15th in my age group.

As I look ahead to the full Ironman in four weeks, I’m certainly feeling the effects of seven months of day in, day out training. I’ve got nerves and butterflies in my stomach every time I think about it. The workouts are big and sometimes the road looks really long. I’ve been here before, but it doesn’t change the anxious feelings. It’s almost like clockwork. I know there will be at least a few meltdowns and there will be at least a few workouts where I question why the hell I’m doing any of this. These final weeks is crunch time – it’s kind of like being thrown at a wall and seeing if you break.  And with every last workout, I might feel some cracking, but I’m not willing to break – at least, not today.

The therapy of riding

I think most of us have all experienced the feeling when you find out that someone you know has cancer. It’s a feeling that leaves you a bit empty and helpless, and you just hope the diagnosis is optimistic. Sometimes the news is good and sometimes it’s not. Cancer is an unfortunate and unfair deal of the cards.

Recently, I found out a family friend was battling an aggressive brain tumour and earlier this month he lost the battle. Doug was the Fire Chief at the City department after my Dad. He spent his career giving to others – putting his life on the line, serving his community and being a leader to the men and women of the department. His diagnosis and death seemed really unfair. But as it goes with the brotherhood of the fire department, the same men and women who Doug once stood behind, have rallied to stand behind him. A group of local firefighters started a ‘Team Doug’ for the Ride to Conquer Cancer to honour him and his battle. When my dad got the call to join the team, he asked me to join him. I couldn’t think of better time spent on my beloved bicycle.
I once read a quote from Arthur Conan Doyle that said, “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” Riding a bicycle is joyful, adventurous, and freeing. There is almost nothing in this world I love more on a Sunday morning in the warm morning sun than to hop on my bike and set off down the road with the wind against my cheeks. Sometimes, for very brief moments, I will even close my eyes and pretend I’m flying. It’s one of the few times I feel like a kid again – wild, young and free. Whether in solitude or with a gang of friends, riding is therapy. And the Ride to Conquer Cancer offers just that.

At the end of August I will join my dad and thousands of other cyclists, and we will ride from Cloverdale in the Lower Mainland of B.C. through to Seattle, Washington. Over two days, we will cover 200 kms.

For so many reasons, this will be one hell of an epic ride and I’m honored to ride side by side with my dad, whose friend courageously fought the fight of his life.

I look forward to sharing my love of cycling on the open road and connecting with others who share similar stories and who are just trying to do something bigger than themselves and make a difference. This will be a great adventure and I can’t wait to share the story.

If you would like to be part of my journey and help me honour Doug – you can donate on my personal Ride to Conquer Cancer page.

Patience pairs well with winter

I think it goes without saying but I’m going to say it anyway, this winter was nasty. It was long, cold, dark and snowy, and my nose, lungs and throat were plagued by mucus and phlegm. Spring has officially hit our calendars, yet I’m desperately curious as to when the sun will warm us again and when my immune system will give me a fighting chance. It’s been a bit rocky, but I’m learning how to be patient and how to weather the storm.

Training started in December – the same as it has for the past four years. But as I’ve said many times already, it was a rougher start this year and harder for me to get back into a groove. The bundled up from head to toe, snot flying, toes freezing long runs on Monday nights that started in the dark and ended in the dark, the 5am wake up calls to what felt like the dead of night, and countless hours of spinning indoors on a trainer, felt more dreary and endless than usual.  And, the empty cough syrup bottles, kleenex boxes and gallons of snot and phlegm reached an all time high. Being sick this winter quickly became the bane of my existence.

I first got sick with a horrible bronchial cough the week before Ironman in July – awesome timing – and then reared it’s ugly head again in November, December, February and April. I started to worry about my health and questioned why I was getting sick so often. I turned to Doctor Google far too many times, and gave myself anxiety about whether or not I was dying. I swear that before triathlon I never paid this much attention to how many times I was getting sick, or worrying about how many days I would be sick. I just dealt with it. But as an athlete, you become obsessive – obsessed with the day in and day out training, performance and health. With missing so many workouts, I questioned if I would be ready, and on the other hand, questioned if I even wanted to do it. Trying to get my momentum going was incredibly challenging. Just when I started to feel a shift in the right direction, I would get derailed. My decision making pendulum about whether or not to continue training has swung back and forth many times since December. I have thought it was a sign that perhaps I needed a change or a break, but each time I missed a workout, I felt an odd lingering emptiness and a burning desire to get back to the next one. So, I know the passion is still there, I just have to find my rhythm.

This isn’t the first time I’ve faced setbacks or doubts, I think those happen almost every year to every athlete. I have spent time dwelling on bad performances, recovering from injuries and illnesses, enduring through bad weather, trying to maintain relationships outside of triathlon, flip flopping on my commitment to the sport – all of those are obstacles, and all of them have taught me, and continue to teach me a little bit about myself.

This winter, in particular, I’ve learned how to restrain myself from acting impulsively or hastily. I’ve learned how to know when it’s right to wait out the storm and when it’s right to push through. I’ve learned how to trust my gut and go with my instincts. I’ve learned which cough syrups work best and which tissue brand is the softest. I’ve learned more patience.

There really isn’t a time when I’m not learning something. Over the past four years, training for Ironman has taught me a lot. Not only about the sport, but more importantly, about mentality and who I am. The training regime is not easy and you need to be invested both mentally and physically, and you’ll either push through or you’ll find another hobby. I guess, I’m one of those people who just keeps pushing through.  

With May on the horizon, I’m hoping that the last of the dreary weather is moving elsewhere and that cold season won’t follow me through to next month, or any month after that. I’ve spent enough time battling it out with Mother Nature and snot – I’m ready for the next challenge.