Seeking dirty clarity

About 6 weeks ago, I signed up for a 5K trail race – a much shorter race than I would normally have on my race calendar, but my reasons for doing so went far beyond the distance or how it fit in with my training plans.

The last trail run I did was a 10K in the middle of September, and for whatever reason on that day, I had a terrible run. I ended up walking about 4 kilometres of the course and was close to tears by the time I finished. I was disappointed in myself and there was no part of me that was smiling or having fun. I went home with my head held low. I was embarrassed, and in hindsight for no logical reason. I vowed to quit running, throw out my running shoes and “do something I’m actually good at.” The hyper critical part of myself can be quite ugly when rearing its head.

After I took a couple days to get over myself and sort through my irrational thoughts, I decided to keep the shoes and at least finish my run training for the season. In November, I took a month off before slowly getting back into a training schedule for Ironman this summer. I still wasn’t especially jazzed about putting the shoes back on, but I went through the motions anyway, and tried to re-focus my energy. For the most part of the winter, I tried to figure out how to screw my head on differently for 2017. Change is not easy, especially changing a mindset. I knew this was going to be a work in progress.


In early January, after I saw a friend sign up for the first Dirty Feet Trail Race of the season in March, I made the decision to jump back on the bandwagon. I needed something to get me back on course and something where I could leave my goals and own expectations behind – something just for fun. I had done this race four years ago and knew the course wouldn’t be too challenging and the distance was too short for any tantrums. It was a good place to start.

Two months later, I went to the start line with one goal in mind – to not have any goals.

The wind was cool, yet tame, the sun danced behind a sea of wispy white clouds setting the scene for a somewhat grey, mundane morning, yet I was smiling. I felt free and alive as my feet relentlessly pounded the pathway and my heart was beating almost in unison. Winding through the trails, I carefully but quickly sidestepped past the mud, flew down short, quick dips and charged back up. My cadence slowed down then sped up, slowed down then sped up, as I navigated the single tracked course. My mind and muscles felt much more engaged than any other run – a welcome change from the long stretches of flat, asphalt I’m used to from running on the road. Being out there amongst the dirt, mud and grass, and chasing the feet in front of me was wildly liberating. Something I was longing to feel.

I ended up beating my previous time by three minutes and was third overall female. While those accomplishments were amazing, none of it really mattered. To me, it was about my reason for being there; teaching myself how to let go of my own inhibitions. I think I’m slowly learning that I can keep my competitive nature without beating myself up in the process. I can want to win and set goals, but I can’t berate myself along the way.


Signing up for this race allowed me to get back into a competition that would be gentle and forgiving. I’m grateful to start the race season off on the right foot and for the simple opportunity to run wild in the hills. This season I am focused on patience, gratitude, humbleness and perspective, but mostly enjoying the ride. Not every race will be perfect, and there is no guaranteed outcome, but I can control my emotions and my mind set. If I can do that, then 2017 will be a success.

New year – new goals – new journey

The end of January came fast. And, so did October, November and the end of 2016. It seems as though I blinked and four months had come and gone.

In October, I finished out the racing year with my first pure half marathon in Vancouver, and subsequently spent the majority of November and December catching up on life. I focused more on friends, family and activities that weren’t swimming, biking or running. In past years, I’ve enjoyed taking this time to allow my mind and body to rest, and to remove some of the pressures, forget about a training schedule and fly a bit more by the seat of my pants.

This past month, I’ve been working on re-focusing back into training and gearing up for another Ironman season. I think more so than in past years, I’ve struggled to get into my grove. It’s been a grind to get back into 6am swim workouts, running in miserably cold weather, and spinning on my trainer for seemingly endless hours. It’s made for a lot of flip flopping in my mind about whether or not I truly want to commit myself to another year of the twice-a-day, six days a week training schedule, and the 226 kilometre race in July for a third time in a row. I’ve said, “yes,” then “no,” then “yes,” and “no,” again. It’s not that I don’t love this sport, because I do, but this is commitment that goes beyond being a hobby or staying active – I train to race and compete, and I’m either in it or I’m out. In my eyes, there is no middle ground.  The winter is a tough time to get back at it. The weather is cold, the skies are dark, the body is out of shape, the mind is more fragile, and it makes it harder to see the joys I get out of training and racing. I know this is just the ebbs and flows of a long eight month journey, and I will get over them, and then I will go through them again at some point down the road. For now, I know that winter will pass, and eventually, I will see the light, both literally and figuratively.

patience

As I look ahead to 2017, I think about a commitment I made to myself at the start of the new year – to choose a word that I would live by and apply to the way I approach each day. That word is “patience.” I’ve never been patient. More specifically, I’ve never been patient with myself. I’m guilty of expecting a lot and not giving myself either time or forgiveness to get there. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years beating myself up because my running wasn’t improving fast enough, or I wasn’t cutting weight fast enough, or I wasn’t changing a flat tire fast enough. I wanted everything to happen now. But in doing so, I was missing out on giving myself credit for the small gains and the overall journey of becoming a better athlete. I had forgotten to see how far I had come and the success along the way. In the past, this attitude that “I’m never going to be good enough” has made me almost throw in the towel more than a few times, and it’s a killer for my spirit and passion. I need to learn how to slow down and take the time to learn and appreciate the challenges, and appreciate that, with hard work and dedication, good results will come. As Elvis Stojko said, “It takes a lot of patience and a lot of time to create something worthwhile.”

Here’s to a new year of goals and racing and training and patience. I’m excited to see what 2017 will bring.

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Finding success in failure

For the past 10 weeks, I’ve had one goal in mind – to set a personal best time in a half marathon. I’ve raced the distance in triathlon events a couple times before, but this would be the first without swimming or biking. I think it goes without saying that the goal of running faster in a pure running event should be fairly attainable, by at least 15 to 20 minutes. After some discussions with my coach, we settled on the goal of 1 hour 45 minutes. At the time, and to be completely honest, right up until the week before the race, it felt daunting. To run a 1:45 would mean I would be running at a pace that earlier this year was on par with my 5K pace. But, I trusted my coach, which in turn made me believe this was possible.
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On the Friday morning before race day I was getting ready to hit the road when I started to feel a bit “off.” At the time I brushed it off as nerves, and for the next 12 hours that was all it seemed to be, until about midway through Saturday when it hit me like a ton of bricks. My stomach was in knots and nothing I ate stayed in for very long. I was curled up in a ball under the bed sheets, and that’s when the tears started. I was disappointed and frustrated for all those hours of hard work just to get to race day in less than optimal form. By around 6:00 that night, I found the energy to join friends for a pasta dinner, but by later that evening my stomach was doing somersaults.

On race morning, I felt like I had lost five pounds and my fuel tank was on zero. At that point, I could have opted out, or simply half jogged, half walked the race, but I have this relentless stubbornness, and going in half way wasn’t an option, even if my body disagreed. That mind versus body battle is an interesting one. I’ve had it a million times and each time I can never predict which one will be victorious.

At the risk of sharing too much information, I popped almost half a pack of Immodium and headed towards the start line. Within the first kilometre, I felt depleted and lethargic, but still believed there was a chance. By 5k, I was still optimistic and was only about one minute off my goal pace. By about 9 kilometres, I knew I was struggling because I started to look at my watch more than usual, and I could feel a wobble in my legs. At 35 minutes, as planned, I took my first gel, and realized my initial nutrition plan on a day like today would not be enough. My stomach felt like it was eating itself.

It was by about the 13 kilometre marker when I knew that I wasn’t going to hit my goal; now it was about finishing. As I rounded a downhill corner, I looked up to see a familiar face in the crowd, Keri. She was cheering loudly and I tried so hard to give her a smile, but feared that it came off more like a grimace. On a good day, my smile comes naturally, yet not so much on this day. About 500 metres up the road, I slowed to a brief walk, allowing my body a slight rest to see if it would help – not really – so instead I yelled at myself to get going; one foot in front of the other.screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-5-35-20-pm
When I finally saw the finish chute, I gave it everything I had. The faster I ran, the faster it would be over. I did not have the energy to celebrate; I could hardly stand. I barreled my way through the crowds of other runners, found a tree, and sat under it on the cold, wet ground. I was done. My mind and body could finally agree on one thing, it was time to rest.

My race time was disappointing – I did not hit my goal. I got a PB, but not the one I wanted, and it’s a difficult thing to find success in failure. It’s difficult to look at what went right instead of finding everything that went wrong. I have a bad habit of dwelling. I’m constantly having to remind myself that bad races happen. Sometimes we make tactical errors and fail in our execution, and sometimes our failure is simply out of our control. Not every day is perfect, and neither is my body; it goes through ups and downs. I recognize that dwelling on “down” moments does not do me any favours, and that it’s best to leave those moments behind and move on.

Tiger Woods once said, “Winning is not always the barometer of getting better.” I may have missed my goal on this day, but that does not define my accomplishments. That permanently etched time on the Internet does not always represent the work, the other successes, or me. This is something I am constantly working on – realizing what did go right and celebrating that. And, realizing there will be plenty more races and plenty more opportunities for failure and success. In the end though, it’s all a part of the learning experience and becoming a stronger and faster competitor.

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Chasing the unknown

It’s been awhile since I last saw down to write a story. In fact, I’ve been relatively quiet. Months have passed since Ironman and although I had the intentions of sharing my journey in writing, that day has more or less become a distant memory. In the off-season I’ve been training for a half marathon while I contemplate what next year will bring for me. It’s been an interesting balance of more free time for life stuff, getting in some decent workouts so I don’t go completely mad, and pondering where to go from here.

Last year, Ironman was more or less about finishing. In previous seasons, I had been sidelined by serious illness and some injuries, and this year I was simply hoping to stay healthy and injury free so I could train consistently through a solid eight months and realize some real goals and results. And, despite a nasty cold the week before the race, I finished my training season in excellent race ready form. I went into the day with high expectations, hoping to shave more than an hour off the previous year. Despite taking 10 minutes off the swim, and 18 minutes off the bike, I only ended up being 22 minutes faster. Dehydration and heat got the better of me and by the time I hit the run, I wasn’t even sure that I would finish. I had taken in almost 10 bottles of liquids, yet I hadn’t peed since the start of the swim. I knew I was in trouble. Incredibly, I did finish. Once again I relished in that amazing moment of crossing the finish line. Although I was disappointed, I allowed myself to celebrate the achievement of simply becoming an Ironman for the second time around.
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This year’s race reminded me that the day comes with many variables and that it is very challenging to execute everything according to plan. This year was a lot tougher. The mental battle was excruciating and physically, I felt pain all the way through to my bones – I guess that’s what it means to go from finisher to  competitor. Not reaching my time goal was a tough pill to swallow. All those months of working my butt off, and I fell short of my goal. I know I could do better, I know I could be faster, but that is the beast of Ironman, sometimes it gets the better of you. Now it’s back to square one. There is no guarantee that I will go through another season healthy and injury free, or that I will hit that start line as ready as I was this year. There are no guarantees; period. So, do I go back to that day in and day out, eight months of two-a-day,  working my butt off training to not know if I will ever get faster or ever get closer to a podium finish? Is it in me? Is my Ironman journey over? I have asked myself these questions over and over again.

The reality is I love this sport. There is almost nothing else in this world that I’m more passionate about and more fired up about than swimming, biking and running. It’s addicting. I love the challenge, the chase, the ups, the downs, the heartache, the wins, the losses; I do truly do love it all. And, while race day is the icing on the cake, some of the best stuff is what you get to accomplish in the day in and day out training. The personal bests, the new adventures, the challenges, the friendships, the muscles that scream at you in pain, but in some sick way you flourish in it. Those are the reasons I keep coming back for more.

It took me a lot longer to realize it this year, but now I know for certain that when December hits, I’m back at it.  I’ll never know what race day will bring, but I guess that’s part of the thrill – the unknown , unwritten ending to the story. Really though, I’ll never know until I try.

Merritt Loop round 3 and then some…

The final weeks to Ironman Canada means there is still a lot of work to be done. Most of the biggest workouts are still on the horizon and it all started last Sunday with the annual Merritt Loop – a ride covering 200 kilometres with more than 2,000 metres of climbing and often in challenging weather conditions. It’s what I like to call, a ‘big girl panty’ ride. This is the third year I’ve ventured out on the journey and the third time I’ve sat down to tell the story; each year, it’s been a different tale.
FullSizeRender (2)The first year, I was inexperienced and naive, and I bonked with 52 kilometres left in the ride. I think I best summarized it when I said, “It kicked my ass.” I remember when I reached the summit of Cardiac Hill – the final steep climb just beyond the 180 kilometre mark – I collapsed off the bike with neither the energy nor the care to un-clip from my pedals. My training partner, Vince, captured the perfect image of me sitting halfway in a ditch on the side of the road with defeat exuding from every inch of my body.

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Last year, I vowed that I had learned my lesson and that redemption would be mine. Unfortunately for me, on the back end of the ride we were hammered by relentless headwinds and soaring 35 degree temperatures. I ran out of water and the delirium of heat stroke set in. We were out there for an elapsed time of 10 hours and 38 minutes. Yet again, another one of my training partners captured the perfect photo of me atop Cardiac Hill, this time lying flat out on the highway and again exuding defeat.
11695998_10153092903287861_4312962366059611938_nWhile I’ve been able to finish every Merritt Loop, I have not yet been able complete the 45 minute brick run afterwards or reach my goal of riding 200 kilometres. While the complete loop from start to finish is a few kilometres shy of 200K, it has always been my goal to put in the extra time to get to that number. In 2014, I was short 4.4 kilometres, and in 2015, it was just 700 metres! There was nothing left in me that could pedal another rotation.

When I saddled up this year, I was more prepared and determined than I’ve ever been to ride the 200 kilometres, complete my brick run and take a photo of myself on Cardiac Hill with a victorious smile on my face. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
13466536_10153796069092861_591032349321431953_nAs a middle of the pack cyclist amongst my group, I have been finding myself alone lately for most of the run and bike workouts. And, the Merritt Loop was no different; I was left alone with my thoughts and a long, lonely stretch of road. This year, unlike every other year, it was cold. My fingers were frozen and at times my teeth chattered against one another. Strong headwinds and rain on the other side of Logan Lake made the ride challenging and, at times, made me question myself. “Why do I like to be tortured? Why does anyone do Ironman? Why am I riding my bicycle in the middle of nowhere, by myself?” At times, I was happy and would sing songs about my granola bar, or my Gatorade, or the rain, or the number 60. At one point, when I couldn’t feel my fingers and all I could hear was the howling wind blowing past my frigid ears, I yelled curse words and cried. The best parts were when I smiled and laughed out loud. You could call me manic, but I think that’s just par for the course. Eight hours is a long time to be alone on your bike with nothing but your own thoughts. The true victory of the day though, was taking a selfie standing tall, proud and strong with a wide smile on my face at the top of Cardiac Hill. The picture that day was not of defeat, but success. I also, put in the extra 5 kilometres to get to 200K, and finished my brick run. For the first time, I had succeeded. It took smart planning, experience and a business-like attitude of just getting it done.
IMG_6159 IMG_6162In previous years, the Merritt Loop has defeated me to the point where I was forced to take the following two days off from training. This year, success meant the work was not over on Sunday evening. It meant I still had two more big workouts the following day – a gruelling set of 9X400 metres in the pool and a 26 kilometre run with tempo. I was already in pain from head to toe; it would take every ounce of physical and mental prowess I had to keep going.

By the time I crawled home Monday night, I was trashed. My body and mind were fried. I could barely lift my legs and simply standing still would make them shake. As I hobbled into the bathroom and looked down at my bloody feet, shaking legs, and salt stained clothes I burst into tears. I felt defeated, and again I questioned myself. What is with all the torture?
IMG_6170 IMG_6180 (1)Three years ago, I made a vow to change my life, to move on from the things that weren’t making me happy, to take on a challenge and live life every day with purpose. That plan didn’t include walking through life in comfort. The plan was to push beyond my limits. I’ve done that in more ways than one. This past weekend is a testament to that, and although it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, it’s making me stronger, faster and in the end, a happier human being.

In the coming weeks, there will be many more ‘big girl panty’ workouts and I have no doubt there will be more pain, blood and tears. But I’ve been to the finish line before, and every moment of this journey is worth it. It is worth proving to myself that I am strong, I am damn crazy and I am living my life right to the very edge. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
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