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.


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.


Katrina Cavaliere

On a warm April morning, Katrina Cavaliere is hunched over her bicycle in the most aerodynamic position she can manage as she grinds it out on a Saturday morning time trial. From a mile away, you can see a fire in her eyes burning with relentless determination, strength, and a hint of competitiveness. With every driving force of her legs, she is working to be better and stronger than she was the day before and to be one step closer to the athlete she wants to become.

Athletic hasn’t always been a characteristic Katrina would choose to describe herself. She spent almost a lifetime on the sidelines, spectating, but never participating. “I’ve always been kind of the fat kid in my head,” she admits. “I was not very athletic, even though I wanted to be. I often quit because I felt people were judging me or looking at me.” Katrina’s time was mostly consumed with building a real estate company with her husband and raising three children. It wasn’t until Katrina was in her 40s that she found a sport that would ultimately change her life and catapult her into taking on one of the toughest physical challenges she’s ever endured.

After spending a couple years running with a local club, Katrina stumbled onto the sport of triathlon when a friend suggested they try a local sprint race. From there, she slowly began to include more swimming, biking and running into her life, even taking on a few more shorter distance races on relay teams with friends.
164638_10200298600280019_1721397358_n 10269654_10152440000558209_3227608499347704001_nIn 2015, after spending a year of supporting her husband, Vince, in his journey to Ironman Canada, Katrina decided she was ready to step out of her comfort zone bigger than she ever had before, and signed on the dotted line for the half Ironman race in Victoria, B.C.

Once she had made the commitment to race, her mindset had to quickly adjust from years of saying, “I can’t,” to “I can.” She knew the road wasn’t going to be easy, but she was also not quite prepared for the workouts her coach would throw her into right from the start. “I remember he would give me a workout and in my mind I was like, are you f**king kidding me, Maurice?” Katrina recalls that in the beginning when she looked at some of the workouts on paper they seemed insurmountable. It took an adjustment and time for her to break through her mental barrier and realize that she could do it, she just needed to believe in the process, her coach and above all else, herself.

In the following two months, Katrina soon adapted to her new training program and started to feel healthy, strong and fit, but more importantly, she started to let go of her insecurities and her fears. “I realized about two months after I started training that I did not go to bed feeling fat, I did not wake up feeling fat, I did not think about it all day long,” she recalls. “I just realized that it’s about strength, and everyone is different.”
10320469_10205017316605765_2534546721129152669_nKatrina was physically and mentally in a prime place to begin her journey, but it was just a couple short months later when she would be hit with her biggest challenge yet. During an interval training run Katrina suddenly felt a “weird” popping sensation deep in her ankle. At the time though, she didn’t think too much of it and continued running. “I was trying not to be a wimp. I knew everyone was dealing with their own injuries,” she says.  But the pain was worsening and swelling started to hinder the movement of her ankle. Stubborn and determined to keep on track, Katrina continued to ignore her injury for the next three to four weeks until her coach finally ordered her off to the doctor. Admittedly, Katrina says she made the mistake of not acknowledging it soon enough. For the next two months, she would bounce around from doctor to doctor trying to determine her prognosis. She would also spend many hours in the pool water running. “It was frustrating because you’re watching everyone improve on their running, and you’re driving to go water run by yourself in the pool,” she says. “I had worked so hard to get where I was, but it could always be worse. You just move forward.”

In the weeks and months ahead, Katrina continued to do just that and forged forward with her training, doing what she could, making the most of it, and coming to an acceptance with her injury. “The ankle was going to be what it was going to be, I did everything I could,” she says. Nothing, not even this injury, were going to stop Katrina from completing her race, even if it meant hobbling through the run.

On June 14, 2015, Katrina walked under the Ironman starting arch and into the cool waters of Elk Lake with her husband by her side; his presence helped put her at ease. “Vince has always believed in me, more than I see in myself sometimes,” she says. In her mind, she knew the work to get there was done, and any insecurities and doubts had to be pushed aside; it was time to put everything to the test.
11062336_10205555768706731_8400553955955115463_n “Once the gun went off, I was calm. I couldn’t believe how calm I was. I thought, I can do this, I can swim.” Katrina settled into her rhythm and made it back to shore in a time that would position her well for the start of the bike. But it was not long after that when she heard the dreaded “pop” sound from her tire. She had a flat and it would be more than 20 minutes until she was back on course again. “I had practiced changing a tire once before,” she admits. “It was so hard watching everyone else ride by as time ticked on.” But Katrina did what she has done since day one of her journey and forged on, never willing to give up. As she approached the bike dismount line, she recalls being happy to be off her bike and back on her own two feet, but it also meant she was in for 21 kilometres of pounding on her injured ankle.
11425861_10205565653833853_4934052702926348750_n “By about 11 kilometres my ankle was throbbing,” she recalls. “The swelling had gone up so much that the tape was digging into my foot.” Katrina was forced to a walk. In her mind, she battled with knowing she was losing time, but it was all she could do to keep moving forward, one step at a time. “The last 5K hurt. My ankle wasn’t moving anymore and the swelling continued to get worse,” she says. As Katrina tried to compensate for the pain, other parts of her body felt the shift and become aggravated. She could feel it from her hips to her toes. Still though, Katrina wasn’t stopping for anything. “I wouldn’t stop, unless it broke, even then I would have crawled across the finish line,” she laughs.
11183466_10205565653313840_9110143333953860346_nWith less than one kilometre to go, Katrina mustered everything she had to turn up her cadence for the finish line. This was the moment she had worked so hard for, and in that moment, she was just grateful not to be dragging herself towards the finish.  “I remember seeing the red carpet and I saw my friends, and my mom waiting to give me my medal,” she recalls. “And then I looked up and I’m like, oh my god, I’m done.”
11407187_10205555793627354_8384677515528082510_n 11391531_10205565654233863_8406264640706543457_n 11400960_10205565656473919_6912255779107351125_n Katrina finished her race in a time of 6 hours 56 minutes, and with a smile on her face. “This was me doing something at 48 years-old; it took me a long time to believe in myself,” she says. “But it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still try something different and push yourself.”
11232232_10205565654673874_8307179600904249070_n Katrina credits the sport of triathlon for pushing her from the sidelines to being a competitor and an athlete. The fire that burns in her eyes during every workout comes from a place of determination and a place of knowing she is stronger both mentally and physically than ever before in her life.

“I knew I had strength, it was just finding it,” she smiles.

Vince Cavaliere

It’s an early Saturday morning in mid-March, and Vince Cavaliere is halfway through a suffer grinder fest spin session. He’s hunched over an indoor trainer, pushing a big gear with a grimace on his face, pain in his eyes, and sweat dripping from his nose. His training partners, working right alongside him, see his relentless determination and shout out words of encouragement. His wife, seated on the bike next to him, calls out his increasing wattage numbers, and this only makes him work harder. You can see him feeding off the energy around him.
Standing at 6’1” with a looming athletic frame, dark Italian skin, and deliberately coiffed flowing locks, Vince carries a presence. He’s loud, outspoken, competitive, driven, and a man of business. He knows what he wants, and he’s calculated in his dreams. As an entrepreneur of a real estate company, Vince has built something from nothing, and he is no stranger to dedication, perseverance and hard work. Dreaming big and always searching for the next best thing is in his DNA.

“I’ve always been goal driven, I’ve always been motivated to be something – and I’m still wondering what I’m going to be when I grow up,” he admits. “My brother says that I’m never satisfied, and even when I get to where I’m going, it’s like, really is that it?”
It was perhaps this mindset that propelled Vince from casual jogging with the run club to the world of eating, sleeping and breathing the sport of long distance triathlon, and ultimately, chasing the dream of racing at Ironman. But, outside of who Vince is as a person, are the people he trains with day and day out – the people he affectionately calls his, “tribe.” They are there for every suffer grinder fest spin session, every pain cave tempo run, every back breaking 200 kilometre enduro ride. They are the ones calling out the encouragement and egging him on to push himself beyond his own limitations.

Since his training journey began, Vince says that finding his “tribe” and the camaraderie of the sport was something he least expected. While, swimming, biking and running are truly individual sports, Vince says he discovered the team in triathlon.
“I never expected to be as connected to people,” he admits. “This is as much an individual sport as you can find. I have to swim by myself, nobody pulls me, nobody pushes me, I have to jump on my bike, nobody pulls me, nobody pushes me, and then I have to run, and nobody pushes me and nobody pulls me. But at the end of the day, the tribe are indirectly pushing me and pulling me.”
Vince’s training partners ultimately became a source of inspiration for him, and played an integral role in helping him to overcome  one of his biggest hurdles, running.
“Running is my worst discipline,” he admits. “It’s the one I work the hardest at, it’s the one that intimidates me the most, and at the end of the day, it’s the one I love the most.”
Reflecting back on his first year of training, Vince says he ran scared. Notably, he remembers his first half marathon in Vegas. He crossed the finish line in just over three hours, and for the next three days, he says, he sat in his hotel room with ice packs on his shins to dull the pain. “It was ridiculous,” he says.
Once Vince made the determination in his own mind to improve on his run times, he looked to his tribe for support, in particular, his training partner Kate, who was a driving factor in pushing Vince outside his own comfort zone.

“She is one amazing runner,” he laughs. “And just watching her and realizing she took an hour off her Ironman time, from 2014 to 2015, and won and qualified for Kona. If I can take an hour off my time, that is unbelievable, and I will have won in my mind.”
After spending an entire season chasing after Kate during training sessions, Vince went from running a three hour half marathon, to a 3.5 hour full marathon. While Vince admits the support from his training partners played an integral role in his physical running transformation, he had to rely on himself to overcome the mental hurdle of running, and says, he has yet to find his own breaking point.
“The hardest part is probably understanding, truly, where your limitations are as a human being, and at what point will you truly break. I haven’t found that yet,” he says.
Outside of Vince’s accomplishments as an athlete, and overcoming his own personal hurdles in the sport, Vince says his greatest fulfillment throughout his Ironman journey has been the opportunity to train with his wife, Katrina.

“She’s super talented in her own right, she’s super strong, mentally one of the toughest people I know, and I draw from that,” he smiles.
As his Saturday morning spin session wraps, and he wipes the final droplet of sweat from his nose, you see a man who is driven by his passions, his fear of failure and the desire to be the best he can be, not only for himself, but for others around him.  “I think I’m a true domestique in many ways,” he admits. “I like to see other people do well around me, and in order for people to do well around me, I have to be doing really, really well. I have to lead by example.”

Race day: Fast and furious

The air outside was chilly, the sides of the road were still covered with remnants of hard compact snow and the lakes were frigid enough to freeze you to the core, yet on a winter February day in Canada, it was race day.
With four teammates on a relay team we had to swim 300 metres around four large buoys in the pool, spin for 6.6K, run one mile on the indoor track, tag your partner and repeat. The course was short, but it was fast and the competition was unexpectedly fierce.  In the hours leading up to the race that morning, many of us had already put in a full shift of training. We thought the race would be more about the fun and silly costumes than actually racing each other, but once that horn blasted, it was on.

The mass of swimmers churned up the pool like a surging motor boat kicking up a wave of white capped water. The draft seemed to propel everyone at an even speed cornering around the first buoy and then the second. Some bodies headed towards collision while others practically swam over each other. As they rounded the third buoy the lead swimmers quickly torpedoed away from the pack and the slower ones began to lose the momentum of drafting off the toes in front of them. Our first relay team member was surging out in front at a comfortable and incredibly quick pace. She seemed to almost skim across the water as she lapped the other swimmers with a calm, yet powerful stroke. As she drove towards the final stretch we all ran to the end of the deck and yelled with enthusiasm as we chased her out the door and into the gym. Like giddy kids with huge grins on our faces and endless laughter we cheered her on with each lightning fast rotation of the crank. The distance was short, but it was full steam ahead.
In just over 10 minutes, the kilometres ticked down to final decimal point, and with a somewhat clumsily hop, she jumped off the bike and bolted towards the track with the second and third place team closing in quickly behind her. Rounding the first lap, we showered on the encouragement and she powered by with a huge grin on her face. Never have I seen someone working so hard and having so much fun all at the same time.
As she rounded the last corner of the lap, our second teammate was tagged and we all ran behind him as he took off towards the pool and leaped into the water. Again, our enthusiasm followed our teammate around each lap of the pool, cheering for him to go faster. Then it was back in the gym, onto the bike, then onto the track, before it was my turn.
I was having so much fun cheering on my teammates, and caught up in the excitement, I almost forgot I would have to participate. Suddenly I felt a flurry of nerves rise into my throat and a rush of adrenaline creep into my fingertips. But without much more time to think about it, my teammate flew up to me for the tag and like the madness of the race I was off.
I surged through the water, feeling like a savage blood thirsty shark, cranking my way around the buoys and fuelled by adrenaline. But the fuel slowly began to taper on the second lap and my arms started to feel a bit heavier, my breathing intensified and I was forced to slow down or risk drowning myself. It caught me off guard. I swim these distances for warm up and generally at a much faster pace, but with the morning workout behind me, I wasn’t prepared for full bore. Life seemed to move in slow motion.
As I passed the final buoy for the final time, I saw the wall closing in and quickly tried to determine how I would get out of the water.  Even with the deck at water level, I feared my arms wouldn’t be able to hoist me out. Perhaps I could launch myself like a beached whale and maybe roll towards the door, but I was narrowing in on my window for making a decision so without much more thought I simply planted my two hands down and miraculously pushed myself out and onto my feet. There was certainly room for error but I managed to make it happen. Next it was off to the gym where I threw on my shoes with exasperated heavy breathing before dashing over to the spin bike and letting my legs fly, almost as if they would pop out of my hip sockets.

 It was just go, go, go – heart pounding, lungs heaving, everything moving at a million miles a second. Then it was, 6.4, 6.5, 6.6, slow the pedals just enough to jump off without tumbling over and drunkenly wobble onto the track. Just as I did with the swim I bolted away with adrenaline pushing me to go faster, but this time the lead settled in my legs and I sighed desperately wondering if I could make it eight times around this short track.
With each lap, I could hear my friends cheering me on and cow bell banging in the background. Their energy inspired me to briefly kick it up a notch before slowing down a little and then faster and then slower. The voices in my head then started to chime in, “do not stop, do not slow down, do not puke.” Finally I hit the final lap and the only surge of energy I had left was inspired by the fact the pain was almost over. With my partner in sight, I reached as far as I could, as if to not take any more steps than necessary, passed along the tag and proceeded to bend over my knees to catch my breath before running to cheer him on.
For one final time, we would run around like happy kids, cheering with excitement on the pool deck, then the spin bike and the track before he hit the final lap. As he narrowed in on the last 50 metres, sprinting with an energy I didn’t think was possible, we all tried to keep up and join him in crossing the line as a team and in third place.
This was one of those races where all the fears and nerves of a typical race day are replaced by wide grins and laughter. Where race kits involve purple wigs, tutus and stick-on moustaches, and the spirit and camaraderie of our sport shines brightly. Training for Ironman certainly has its days of blisters, blood, aches, pains, sweat, and tears, but for every one of those, there are a few more like this one – fun, happy, and invigorating.

Deflowered on Tunkwa

It was cold, wet, long and hard. I screamed in agony, begged for mercy, and closed my eyes tight. My ass was beaten, my legs could barely hold on. It was my first time, and nothing about it was gentle, in fact, it was rough and ruthless. But I came out on top, alive and unscathed; a brand new woman. This is the true story of having my cherry popped on Tunkwa; a one hundred and thirty kilometre up-hill battle of a bike ride from the edge of town in Kamloops to the heart of Logan Lake. She is unforgiving, and as we passed through rain that poured in sideways and right side up, hail, howling head winds, and freezing temperatures, I felt what it was really like to doubt myself.
It started out like any other ride and for the first twenty odd kilometres I laughed in the face of Tunkwa and it’s harsh reputation. I was extremely naive but humility followed shortly afterwards. Upon reaching the lookout point just past Tobiano, overlooking Kamloops Lake, we paused for a couple photos and a brief break. I felt strong, and I thought, bring it on. But after the ensuing playful and fast descent I saw what lay ahead of me. For the next forty plus kilometres rolling hills felt like mountains, and steep climbs felt like Everest flipping me over and slapping me silly. I drained my bottles of water, sucked back gatorade, mowed on bananas, crushed bags of candies, desperately searching for every ounce of energy I could find. At this point, I couldn’t tell whether I was on the verge of bonking or just overly exhausted, or just overly overwhelmed, or just overly crazy. With each breath, which sounded like I was in deep agony, I questioned whether I was worthy of chasing such absurd dreams. With every stroke of the pedal, I asked myself, “what are you doing, who do you think you are?” Then the skies opened and the rain began to pour. Grit and water flew up at my face and dripped from the brim of my helmet. My body started to freeze, and I began to think of which friend might find it in their heart to come rescue me. Then the rain turned to hail, and I saw another long ascent just ahead; “fuck me,” was all that escaped my lips.
After riding for more than 80 kms, we finally reached Logan Lake, and congregated inside the tiny gas station to warm up, replenish our fuel stores, and share stories of the grind. I was confused and lost, as I looked to Vince to tell him I may be calling for a ride home, I felt defeated. This is by far the weakest I’ve felt on my entire training journey thus far, both physically and mentally. I wandered aimlessly, feeling incredibly uneasy and unsure. Here I was pushed almost beyond my limits, miles from home, or anything that felt comfortable and safe, and I was on the verge of quitting.  Yet somehow, as I sauntered out of the store and into the harsh elements, I found myself back on the proverbial horse, and once again peddling my away along.
As we cycled out of town, the chill set back into my bones, and even changing gears became impossible, as I could no longer feel my fingers. I either stuck to the gear I had selected, or if desperate, reached around with my hand and palmed the lever until it shifted.
We were barely a few kilometres back on the road when we were randomly stopped by a guy with truck, apparently someone who knew my fellow riders, offering to give anyone a lift home who wanted it. Vince looked to me, and said, “hey Aly, you wanted a ride home, didn’t you?” I looked at him, with sweat and mud dripping from my face and said, “no, I didn’t come this far to quit.” And that was that.
By the time I reached the edge of Kamloops I was exhausted and just beginning to thaw. I was also talking to myself and singing random Celine Dion songs. Some would say I had gone delirious, but in my mind, I had made it.
My deflowering on Tunkwa wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Like all first times it was rough, raw, and painful, and I can’t wait to do it all over again, but this time I’ll be much more experienced and ready to go all day long.