Here we go

10801619_10152569703662861_5271506552545061141_nDecember has begun which means training programs have been assigned and it’s time to get back to work. That extra weight that seemed to magically pop up on my hips overnight needs to go and my heart, lungs and muscles need to feel the burn again. Last week, I went through my fitness test, which gives coach my baseline for the start of the season, or as I like to call it, the test of how lazy I got over the last few months. But the real start to the season, the real start to the road to Ironman kicked off with a 6am swim on Monday morning.
The night before it was chilly and at only 5:00pm, it was already dark. The thought of getting into a pool at 6 in the morning sent shivers of goosebumps up my arms, or maybe it was goosebumps of anticipation. For the first time since August, I was packing my swim bag preparing for a group workout. My bathing suit has been hanging in lonely solitude on the back of my bathroom door handle for months and as I grabbed it to throw in my bag, I caught the wafting scent of chlorine. It was a scent that I’ve missed. For me, it was like taking your first sip of coffee in morning – rush and calmness at the same time that fire you into some sort of get up and go momentum. It was enough for me to forget about the cold and get out the door.
As soon as I stepped onto the pool deck, I remembered my first group swim from last year. I was so nervous and so afraid of being out of place that I thought I might forget how to swim and simply drown. That fear was intensified when my coach told me to tie my feet together with a thick rubber band. Looking back on it now, I laugh. As I brought myself back to the present moment on the deck, I suddenly started to have those some apprehensions. What if I got so out of shape I couldn’t swim 50 metres? What if I drowned with my feet tied together because I forgot how to swim? But as with all irrational thoughts they were soon dispelled as I hopped in the cool blue water and just kept swimming lap after lap like a fish with no rhyme, reason or direction. In fact, I think the extra weight in my ass totally helped negate any possibly of sinking. 
Getting back into the routine of training this week was magical. There really isn’t any other word for it. When you find your passion, this is what it feels like. It might sound hokey or a little too gung-ho, but it just is what it is. Embarking on one of the toughest roads I’ve set out to conquer leaves me full of anticipation, nerves, worry, fears, joy and excitement. There almost isn’t a word that won’t describe all the emotions and thoughts that go into preparing for an Ironman. Every time I tell someone about my training I always get the same raised eyebrow looks and the same “oh you’re crazy,” responses, which sometimes makes me second guess my ambitious goal. Am I really going to do this? I remember writing on my bucket list years ago that I was going to complete an Ironman and a marathon. At the time, I thought, yea right. I figured I was more likely to succeed at ticking off more practical goals, like riding a bull, swimming with sharks or flying a blimp. Honestly though, I’m here to tell you, having big dreams and seemingly outlandish ideas of doing what others deem impossible is a hell of a motivator and entirely possible.
Here’s to the first week of my road to that dream and all the challenges that come with it. I’m feeling pretty pumped.

 

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Kona, reflection and more non-training days

It’s Kona week. In just two days the cannon will blast a plume of smoke over the thousands of eagerly awaiting swimmers in the pristine waters along the Kona coast. It will signal the start of the grandest, most sought after long distance triathlon event on the planet. For many of those triathletes it will be a moment they will never forget and an experience to cherish forever. Almost every dedicated long distance triathlete dreams of one day gracing the world championship stage in Kona, but only the elite, the best or the lucky will have that opportunity.  Kona is one of the reasons why I am in this sport. As a kid I remember watching the broadcast on TV, thinking the athletes were superheroes, and that one day, maybe, I could live the dream of competing in Hawaii.  Even as a teenager, on a trip to Kona, I remember seeing the “OFFICIAL SWIM START AND RUN FINISH IRONMAN TRIATHLON WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP” sign at the Kailua Pier, and having a moment to reflect on all the great athletes who had realized their dreams in that very spot. At the time, I really knew nothing about the sport, other than its grueling nature. I still remember images of some of the final athletes literally stumbling and crawling across that coveted finish line on Ali’i Drive – it was inspirational. With a course that winds through mountainous climbs, lava fields, scorching temperatures, and howling winds, it is one of the most gruelling races out there. On this particular week, thinking about all the triathletes descending onto the course has inspired me to reflect on my own triathlon journey this year. The season was filled with triumph, defeat, failure, heart break, sore muscles, tears, laughter, joy, happiness, and success. I don’t even think there is an adjective or emotion that wouldn’t be fitting to describe the roller coaster that I called, training. Almost a year ago I walked onto the pool deck for my first workout with my new coach and two of my soon-to-be training partners. At the time I had a few sprint triathlons under my belt, but the training regime I was walking into was going to be a drastic change. These were Ironman competitors, and I was about to be put in my place. Only a few months previous, I was cycling along Westsyde Road, a rolling hills, yet mostly flat jaunt out in the country, which at the time qualified as my “hills” ride. Now here I was about to embark on one of the most gruelling training plans I have ever endured. My first hint was on this morning at the pool when my coach told me to swim laps with my legs tied together. At first I thought he was trying to drown me. There are still moments, even a year later, where I think his workouts are for the intended purpose of murder. Anyway, that swim was nothing short of a flailing attempt at bobbing from one end of the pool to the other. I was heaving along like an exasperated floundering sea creature, all the while struggling to mimic the graceful and quick movements of the other two swimming along with me. I felt out of place, but determined. And from that day on, that just kind of became my style – struggle to keep up yet push with every ounce I had to follow in the footsteps of those ahead of me, and they were always ahead of me. Some days I thought it would be nice to have someone who moved at my pace, but then I realized the faster my partners moved, the harder I pushed. With each workout I would tell myself to never lose sight of the fastest one, yet I would fail every time. And failure became my driver to continue screaming and cursing and flailing, all the while pushing the limits. Some would think it’s lonely at the back, always being last, but I grew to accept it and to thrive from it. Always chasing someone means you are always, always pushing. I became grateful for the expertise they shared, and even more so that, even through their own pain of the workout, they would encourage me along as they lapped me, time and time again. Reflecting on this past year, I would say my development as a triathlete started with the 5-peat hill climbs, gruelling 10X400 metre swims, and the endless mind, body and soul testing track workouts, but it was the group of incredible people I got to train with that really molded me into the triathlete I wanted to be – determined, driven and committed. The season may have ended on a sour note, and I might be struggling to find a rhythm in my recovery, yet looking back on the year, it was an incredible journey; a journey I can’t wait to repeat, only this time with a different end result. This sport has changed my life for the better and I can’t wait for the back-to-back workouts, tears, sweat, pain, yadda, yadda, yadda. It will be great. In the meantime, I will put on my pom poms, enjoy the quiet of recovery and cheer on the Kona competitors, but I will be cheering loudest for the one and only Melissa Lowenberg., a true friend and competitor. Mel, go get ’em.
Here’s to finally putting the 2014 season behind me and looking forward to the new challenges of next year.

Then everything short circuited…

One week ago you could say I was mentally and physically all over the place, I think some probably even thought I was dreading race day. The truth is I was just a jumbled ball of energy dying to get to that start line – I was ready and I knew it – then everything short circuited.
My mind is foggy, my head aches, I have numbness in my legs, and the strength I had just a short week ago is gone. I’m struggling to understand how I got here, and I’m struggling to understand why this happened. All I know is that race day will come and go without me this year. All the athletes who have been working relentlessly to get to this moment will take to the start line and see their dreams realized this Sunday, while I will have to watch from afar. For eight months I have poured my heart and soul into this sport. I worked with a dedication I’ve never seen from myself, and a determination to be better and stronger with every challenge I faced. I ate, breathed, slept, drank and dreamed of this sport, and perhaps even obsessed over it. August 24th was supposed to be my dream and my test this year yet within a matter of hours it was taken from me this past Thursday night when I was admitted into hospital with an eventual diagnosis of Meningitis. Severe head pain amongst other delightful accompanying symptoms crippled me in a rigid hospital bed for four days. It’s been one of those things that just kind of hits you up the side of the head, and you’re like, “where the hell did that come from??” Life is funny like that and so is timing. Out of all the things that I hate the most right now it’s not the fact that I’m missing the race, my trip to Vegas to celebrate the end of the season and my 30th, or even the fact that I’m barely able to sit up or walk stairs. It’s missing my brother’s wedding this past Saturday – that one hurts like a punch to the gut. That’s a one time shot (hopefully) and it’s not like races where you just make up for it next year. This is family and it meant so much to be there, to see him marry the woman he loves, the woman who makes him happy. I was fortunate enough to squint through a live feed of the ceremony before succumbing back to the pain and torture of a swelling cranium. And now all my memories from that day are etched into photos taken from the guests who were there. It makes me feel so absent and distant from such an important moment in my brother’s life. But it looked like an amazing day and so did the newlywed couple, and really in the end that’s all that matters.
Over the last week I’ve had a lot of time to think, although sometimes it hurts, and despite the shittiness of the situation, I feel so grateful. Grateful for the love and support from friends and family, grateful that because of my overall health I will heal and probably very well, and grateful for the past eight months, because with or without that race, it certainly wasn’t all for nothing. Almost every single day I was doing things I thought impossible and it made me feel alive and proud. Feelings that have been kind of absent for me in the past. The changes I’ve seen in my physical self as well as my mental self are incredible and I can honestly say this is the happiest I’ve ever been in my adult life. This sport has changed me for the better. Every ounce of energy ever bottled up inside of me had an outlet and training made me feel free from myself. I also spent a significant amount of my time with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met, people who I admire both as friends and as triathletes. This journey has been incredible and every journey has it’s bumps in the road, so I’ll take this one this year, and be that much more ready to do it all again next year. I have feeling I’m going to come out of this stronger and more focused than ever before.