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.

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.

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.

Another year, another adventure

Getting back into the routine and grind of training can be a bittersweet journey. My mind and body have long been ready for structure and a break from being on a break. The off-season provided some much needed time to fly by the seat of my pants, indulge and otherwise float along free and without constraints. And while it was good for me, I also came to the realization that structure works in my favour. Without it my life is one giant zig-zagging swirl, much like a carefree child running after dandelions in the wind. It’s fun and freeing for a short while, but eventually I have to float back down to reality. So, here I am, looking ahead to the new year with a plan in my mind, challenges on the horizon and an uncharted path to carve out.  Despite being my second Ironman year, I have no doubt this one will become unique in its own way. There will be new milestones, new tests, new triumphs and new stories to tell.
On December 7, the start to the season was kicked off with a swim. As I do at the beginning of every year, I pulled my bathing suit off the back of the bathroom door for the first time in months. It’s the dreaded moment of putting back on a bathing suit that may or may not fit. As tradition goes, the straps felt tight and my ass seemed large.
Once at the pool, I shuffled half asleep onto the deck with my hoodie still on and looked through my half open eyes at the turquoise still water. As with every first day back, I pondered whether the pool was longer or not. Either way, it didn’t matter, if I procrastinated any longer my coach would have dropped kicked me in, so I eventually lowered myself into the cool water and kicked off the wall. Despite always being the last one in, the water is my favourite place. While some of our training sessions here can be gruelling hard work, it has also been a place of healing for me and I always look forward to the first day back at the pool.

In just the first few weeks of my new training schedule, I’ve already felt in familiar territory but I’ve also realized I’m starting in a different place. My mindset is more focused, my knowledge and experience base has broadened and with each start to the new season, I’m stronger than the last.
As 2016 begins, I’m at the beginning of another year of many unknowns and unchartered territory, but that’s the beauty of celebrating the start to a new year. I get a blank canvas, and I look forward to painting it with all the patterns and all the colours.  2016 will be my year of adventure – in work, in play, and in everything that comes my way.