Off season blues

It’s been just over six weeks since Ironman, and I think my life is finally settling back down to something that resembles normal. It’s a hard transition to go from a million miles a minute, to the greatest experience of my life, to nothing. For a few days after the event, I allowed myself to heal. That meant allowing myself to sleep in, not train, and otherwise not think about swimming, biking or running. And considering I was still hobbling along with sore muscles, searing blisters, chaffing and healing road rash, a break was probably needed. But slowly the pain and tiredness went away, and as the sunshine and sparkles of race day faded, I began to feel somewhat lost. There was no more structure in my life, no schedule telling me where to be or what to do, and no more goals, or drive. I slowly started to feel the happy escaping me. Some nights I would curl up on the couch feeling sad and lonely. Some nights I paced around the kitchen unsure of what to do. Some nights I barely slept. At the time, I longed for workouts, but didn’t have the energy. Even light jogs would send my heart rate skyrocketing, and I started to worry I was losing everything I had worked so hard to build – and I was.
The off season was tougher than I had thought. My body, my mind, and my life, in general, needed a break from the constant and, at times gruelling, two-a-day training, yet at the same time my body and mind almost ached for it. I remember during training season, I would say to myself, when this is all over I’m going to enjoy life outside triathlon. I had plans to stay up late, eat chicken wings, drink beer, sleep in, and otherwise regain my social life. Yet, with all the time in the world to do those things, I kept finding myself wanting the one thing that I thought I wouldn’t miss – training.
As I gave myself some more time to digest the post-season, I found that over time things slowly fell into place. First and foremost, I had to tell myself that it was ok to let go of the constant swimming, biking and running routine to do other things. I just had to rediscover what those things were. I also needed time to recover and to accept that if in that process I lost some of my fitness that was ok too. It’s a part of the cycle, and with rest comes re-building which can sometimes be one of the best parts of training.
Within about a month, I had settled back into a busy life full of triathlon and chicken wings and beer. It’s an incredible combination, but my sadistic love for punishment will have me chomping at the bit for more intensity soon enough. I’m already setting goals and thinking about my next challenge, and yes Ironman Canada is on the calendar for next year. If you had asked me immediately after the race, or even during the race, I would have said that another Ironman was not in the cards for me. But with some reflection, I’ve discovered that this journey I’ve been on is not over. A chapter of it is complete, but there are so many more mountains to climb and conquer. Here’s to whatever 2016 has in store for me and I’m knocking heavily on its door.

Second chance – Half Ironman – Victoria

As I stood in waist deep water with my arms stretched above my head and an Eminem pump up ballad booming in the background I felt much of the same feelings right before every race start – butterflies, excitement, apprehension and an unrelenting desire for the start cannon to just fire already. My mind was no longer thinking about the magnitude of that day, or what I had done to get there – I just kept saying, swim, bike, run, swim, bike, run – that’s all you have to do.
As the horn sounded, I dove forward and did what I do every other race, try not to drown, get kicked or punched, and swim in a somewhat straight line. The swim felt as if it went on forever. Each time I popped my head up to sight the buoy lines, I  would search for the turnaround point, which seemed to be moving further away than closer. With each stroke of my watch arm, I would try to catch a glimpse of the numbers to see how long I had been out there. “Just keep swimming,” I told myself. As I finally, hit the last buoy, I headed for the blue arch on shore. By this point, my intercostal muscles were screaming in a stabbing pain with each stroke and I was dying to be back on dry land and get going on my patiently awaiting bicycle. Heading into race day with pain in my ribs, the swim plan was to simply survive. It felt like a lazy Sunday stroll, but eventually my hands touched sand, and I shot upright, staggering across the beach and through to transition. I’ve always been lightning quick in this portion of the race – if it was a sport in itself, I’d probably go pro.

After being in the horizontal position swimming for the past 40 minutes I quickly discovered my sea legs made getting onto a bicycle a little more challenging. Unlike the shorter distances I’ve done in the past, this one requires a little more patience and time. Some hop on quickly, while others wobble to and fro like drunken fools riding their bikes in the night. What a fascinating place for a spectator to watch.
It didn’t take long to settle into my rhythm – one pedal after the other, I quickly  began picking off the competition one by one. I knew I had some ground to make up for the slow swim, so I pushed into beast mode. Now was the time to focus. The bike requires a lot of thinking – at least it does for me. I have a mind that tends to wander and there is so much happening when riding a bicycle. “Look at the pretty tree, oh there’s a pothole, that guy looks good in spandex, where’s my water bottle, should I pass her, yes I should, I need to eat, I need to drink… squirrel!” For an ADD mind, everything is amplified. Nonetheless, I find a system that works so that I can take in the scenery, feed and water myself, keep on track with the race, not think about mechanical failures or flats, and even pee on the go. No – triathlon is not glamourous. With all the peeing, eating, drinking and other focused distractions, it’s incredible how fast 90 kilometres goes by. In fact, so fast, I got behind in my calories and hydration. In panic mode, I quickly choked back 400 calories of shot blocks and chugged a bottle of water with about 10 kilometres left on the course.  I didn’t think it at the time but this would eventually come back to haunt me.
As I came flying down the hill into transition, I smiled like a giddy little kid. Heading back into transition after the bike is one of my favourite parts of the race. You get to see all the fans again, the mass of strangers cheering you on – it feels like a homecoming celebration. There is nothing like friendly faces or even complete strangers rooting for you as you struggle through what, at times, can be a suffer fest. It can be the difference between feeling like shit and feeling like gold.

As much as I love the bike, I also love the freedom of dropping off my bike and knowing the last portion of the race is relied solely on the mechanics of my body. No flat tires or broken chains to worry about – just tired and failing body parts, which can most always be overcome with a little bit of grit.
As I hit the shady trails around the lake, I was on par for a great time. All I had to do was settle into a comfortable pace for the next 11 kilometres or so, then start picking off the competition again. For the first 6 or 7k this felt doable, but then I started to play mind games with myself as my body grew tired and sore. The adrenaline of the bike was leaving me and here I was to slug it out – one foot in front of the other. This was the point in the race where the suffering began, and I started to question why I was here, why I thought this was remotely enjoyable, and even started questioning how the hell I was going to double the distance in just six short weeks. The focus had left me. My first half ironman was starting to eat me alive. As I rounded back towards the 10 kilometre mark, I could hear the spectators and I was able to pick up my pace. In fact, before heading back onto the trail, there was a smattering of familiar faces, including my dad, yelling my name, picking my spirits back up. I couldn’t help but find that giddy kid smile again and just kept right on moving. But it wasn’t long after that I felt the kilometres ticking away at an unbearably slow rate and felt as if I couldn’t even lift my legs one step further.

As I went to choke down another gel, I felt that uncomfortable feeling in my gut rise up, and I knew the run plan was out the window. Here was the last minute overkill of calories and water on the bike coming back to haunt me. I will spare the gory details of the remaining  kilometres of that run. Like I said, triathlon is not a glamorous sport and what happens on course, stays on course. Now it was about survival. The time I was hoping for slowly ticked away, and it was all I had to dig deep, reminding myself that yes, I did love this sport and yes, I had worked hard to be here, so I would be damned if anything stopped me from reaching that finish line.
As I reached the final kilometre marker, I started to move faster than I had moved in the past two hours. In that final 200 metres through the crowds of incredibly supportive cheering spectators, I saw my dad and the sound of his voice and smile on his face was all that I needed to turn that corner with a burst of energy. I flipped my signature bright neon trucker hat backwards, almost as a sign that the work was over and the celebration was about to begin. As my feet hit the Ironman red carpet, stretched out for less than 100 metres to the finish arch, I reached out to high five complete strangers.

Running through the arch, I flexed my arms in triumph and tears streamed down my cheeks. Finally, I had done it. For six hours and 16 minutes, I swam, biked and ran, thinking really only about how to survive. It wasn’t until those final few seconds that everything sank in. If you had seen me cross that finish line, you would have thought I won the damn thing.
I hate sappy endings, but I have to admit, I felt like I won or at least proved to myself that with a little bit of grit and determination you can beat your body to a bloody pulp and still keep going. Through all the obstacles this last year has thrown at me, I’ve got back up, and just kept moving forward every single time until I got to my finish line, beaten and battered, but still kicking. My first half Ironman was incredibly humbling and inspiring. To be surrounded by thousands of other athletes, all from different backgrounds and with different stories and reasons for being there, grinding it out with you, is a pretty incredible feeling. It certainly wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine, but that’s the beast of this sport, and I can’t wait to see what is possible at double the distance next month.

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Deliriously content and feeling alive

The sound of an alarm clock buzzing off at an early hour on a weekend seems uniquely different than a weekday wake up call. During training season, it buzzes at the same time Monday through Sunday but the buzz on a weekend sounds the alarm for something so much better.
This morning was the first time since August that I have risen early for a group training session. I couldn’t wait to get my bike shorts back on, although they fit a little bit snugger and I looked a little bit frumpier, I didn’t really care. The last month I have been craving getting back into a routine and, for whatever reason, this morning felt like the perfect time.
Just like any other training day I went through the early morning routine of sorting out what to wear and calculating my calories and hydration. Todays workout was “Everything but the Kitchen Sink,” which usually involves a 1.5 to 2 hour spin, followed by 20 minutes of core exercises and cooling off with a short run. I thought I would be apprehensive about how I might perform and worry about passing out mid-spin from exhaustion, but there was a huge part of me that was just ready to go, whether my body was or not.
As soon as I got to the office, sat on the bike and my legs started to go I felt a wave of ease and almost a sense of giddiness. There was a boisterous chatter amongst the group with the quiet whir of rotating discs in the background and I realized just how much I’ve missed this. I think I had forgotten all the little details – the sounds, the smells, the feelings – all of it combined is like one big happy thought.
As the workout intensified and my legs in somewhat unison with my lungs started to burn, my mind cleared and I zoned in, which is a rare thing for me. Usually my mind is buzzing, racing, over thinking, analyzing, but when I’m swimming, biking or running, it’s just different, I’m in the zone and everything just seems a little bit less chaotic. When I signed up for long distance triathlons I did so for a challenge. I wanted to see how far I could push myself, but in the end I got so much more.
As we hopped off the bikes and headed outside into the crisp cool morning with the sun shining brightly upon us, I was reminded that this is my passion. And despite the fact that I ended this workout sprawled on my living room floor like I starfish, I felt deliriously content and amazingly alive and that’s a pretty sweet feeling.