Be patient, be humble, be grateful

For the past month, I have been sidelined from training with a knee injury and limited to water running, light spinning, and swimming, but road or trail running have been off the table. The one discipline I struggle with most, and at some points have loathed, and suddenly it was no longer an option. It must be a love-hate relationship, because every day I haven’t been able to run has been torture. My desire to run has become a flaming, burning passion that has been snuffed out.  Despite all of this I continued to put on my running shoes every single day. I have been limited to hobbling, limping or slowly walking in those shoes, but it was my way to remind myself to keep moving forward, and that one day those feet would be moving at a faster pace. The shoes are also insanely bright, and no matter my speed, they always make me feel fast, even if I was only hobbling or limping along. But this afternoon, as I slid them over my feet they appeared extra vibrant, extra bright, as if almost alive – for this afternoon, after clearance from my doctor, those shoes would be running again. The road to today has been a roller coaster – from a season-ending original diagnosis, to a couple second opinions, to a modified training schedule, to rehab, to limping, to hobbling to walking, then squatting, laughing again, and eventually go ahead to get back on the horse.
A few steps was all that was needed before I was grinning ear to ear. In this moment, my love-hate relationship with running maybe just maybe blossomed into true love. I was limited in my speed and intensity, but the feeling of my feet hitting the pavement in a pitter patter rhythm was a enough to spread a smile larger than a Disneyland happy face. I felt no pain, I felt free, happy, and alive. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this can probably speak for itself.

 As Doctor King once said, “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
In the grand scheme of things, the severity of my knee injury was minimal and its affect on my season could have been a lot more costly. Yet still, working through it has been a battle that has taught me humbleness, patience and new perspective. It’s a difficult thing to do when life is normally going at a million miles a minute – it makes it a lot harder to slam on the brakes without momentarily sliding out of control. Yet slowing down has given me more time to think and reflect. For one, I am humbly reminded of why I started this journey in the first place. It wasn’t to take a walk in the park – I wanted a challenge – full on with everything the sport of triathlon has to offer, from the good times to the bad. Training for Ironman is not supposed to be easy or comfortable. These last four weeks have truly cemented that my passion for this sport is unwavering and burns hotter than hell. I am also reminded of my commitment to raising money for Multiple Sclerosis, and dedicating this journey to those who can’t dream this dream that I chase. That may be the most humbling reminder of all – be grateful for what you can do. Even if that means water running with the grey haired ladies in the casual lane.
The next month of reintroducing my body to a full training schedule still comes with uncertainty, but, I plan to just keep moving forward. Despite the setbacks, the stress and frustrations, I don’t regret this bump in the road. It’s because of the injury that I will come out on top, more driven, more determined and stronger than before.

*Since the beginning of my 2015 training season, friends and family have generously donated more than $1,400 to the MS Society in honour of Rust2Iron 4 MS. If you would like to support my campaign, please consider donating here.

 

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The end of an era

This weekend began a new era of cycling in my triathlon journey as I made the switch over from a roadie to a tri bike. Since clipping in on Saturday I’ve put in over 100 kilometres in the saddle, and I think I’m in love. It’s sleek and quick and light and it’s molded to me like a glove. But this new love has come at the expense of my old flame. This week’s post isn’t about breaking through barriers, or new challenges, or epic journeys, but about remembering Red Lightning, one of the most important partners I’ve had along the way.
He was once the light that shone brightly and mighty. He was old, but full of life, and I loved him. Now he sits, torn apart and left behind like a broken lamp that has no home. I stripped his wheels, pedals and saddle, then left him there in his fading blaze of glory. As I walked past him this morning, I felt an unusual and most abnormal feeling of grief. Together we have conquered mountains. We have crashed together, cried together and laughed together. I’ve yelled at him and spoke softly to him. We have had bonding sessions before races, and I even hugged him after races. But most importantly during those races we could drop faster, sleeker, prettier, and pricer bikes, because together Red Lightning and I were unstoppable. He was my first road bike and in some way I feel that since we started the journey together we should end it together, but alas sometimes change is good. It seems so silly to become attached to an inanimate object, yet in a year of so many challenges and first experiences, it’s hard not to feel that connection. It does become part of the experience and, for the most part, he fared me very well. Together we rode more than 1,500 kilometres, climbed more than 15,000 metres, raced in six triathlons, called one taxi home, crashed twice and conquered the biggest challenges of my triathlon journey. I know this isn’t the end of his road, perhaps maybe it’s just a break, but nonetheless I feel it’s important that at this juncture to look back on the memories. Nonetheless, no matter where the road goes, he’ll always have a place in my heart and together we will ride again, it will just be a different journey.

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The long and delirious road home

Holy shit. Holy shit. These were the only words I could mutter out in delirium as I lay spread out in the back of my air conditioned car. My legs were burning, but somehow wanted to keep going; my skin was burning, like it was on fire; and my ass felt like it had been sitting on a steel pole for days. This is the aftermath of the biggest cycling adventure of my life, from Kamloops to Merritt and back again, totalling just under 200 kilometres in the scorching interior heat. It kicked my ass, and I learned a lot about myself, proper sunscreen application and hydration.
For the first 50 kilometres to Logan Lake I partnered up with a couple of the girls in the group and we coasted together in somewhat broken unison, drafting behind one another, then spinning separately, rejoining to chat side by side, and then flying down hills like children let loose after school. The scenery along the route was breathtaking, and the calmness of nature surrounding us made me entirely forget about what lie ahead. With each passing lake I would stare off at the glassy motionless surface, only to be interrupted by soaring birds, or floating butterflies. I had my iPod plugged in, yet the sounds of the world just waking up was too beautiful to be overtaken by my music.
As we descended upon our first pit stop in Logan Lake, the team regrouped to rehydrate and refuel before saddling up again for the next 50 kilometres to Merritt.
Part of the group took off ahead with three of us lagging behind enjoying the new stretch of road before us. Once again the landscape was incredibly calming and pristine. As we watched the group cycle in unison ahead three stunningly graceful deer pranced across the highway just in front of them. They must have been frantically trying to avoid collision with the oncoming bikes, but from my perspective, they just looked peaceful and majestic.
For the next stretch in our journey I would chase the group through the winding, rolling valley; tucking into TT, flying around the bends and absorbing the landscape before me.
Coming into Merritt I felt a little tired, but mostly strong, and exceptionally happy to hit the halfway mark where we could once again refuel, rehydrate and relax. Like toads sunning on a log we splayed out in front of the Husky station, eating foods high in sugar and salt, while some of the smart ones re-slathered lotions and lubricants. Within a few minutes, the rest of the gang who started later in the day arrived to join us and our little group had grown.
Ready to hit the road again for the final 95 kilometres we started off as a pack, drafting in perfect unison. We were maintaining a solid speed, and I felt comfortable that we would stick together at this pace for the journey home. Yet, slowly the pack started to wean as the fast ones picked up their speed and one group became two. More stunning scenery lay out before us, but within a few kilometres of hitting the highway it was rudely interrupted by the constant roar of erratic semi trucks barreling down the road. At times I wondered if they even saw  the pack of tiny cyclists on the barely-there shoulder beside them. I was terrified; one slight, wrong move to the left and we would have become pancakes beneath wheels that seemed to tower over us. If it came down to it, I would have leaped into the ditch to avoid such demise. As each roar came up behind me, my shoulders hunched in feared apprehension and it was all I could do to not close my eyes and veer off the road. As cyclists, we will always be on the losing end of a battle with any type of vehicle. Our lives are at risk on the open road, and accidents can happen because drivers are reckless and careless, which usually stems from impatience. It seems foolish but it happens, and so we ride with caution, and sometimes even fear. Unfortunately, this seemed to set the tone for the rest of my ride. I was rattled and I continued to unravel as the kilometres ticked away. I started to feel tired, my legs were feeling heavy, I could feel myself slowing. I was becoming less and less happy, and I wanted to burst into tears. Usually this is a sign of bonking, and that you need to refuel and fast, but even the happy colours of gummy bears, a gel and a chocolate bar couldn’t save me. For the first time I started to feel the heat of the sun bearing down on me and realized how dehydrated I felt. Two of my group mates realized I was on my dying last legs and told me that with 52 more kilometres to go that I had no choice but to keep on going. For the remainder of the ride they rode along with me, even as we slowed to a turtle’s pace, and even as I cursed at the world for really nothing in particular, and spat back up water all over myself. I drafted in behind them, while at some points Vince even literally pushed me along. The pain continued to intensify as my legs started to cramp and I could feel every pang within my body start to scream. The heat burned me into somewhat of a delirious state where the side of road began to look like moving waves and my training partner’s voices just began to muffle with the wind. I couldn’t quite think straight and at that point I don’t quite know how I was keeping my bike straight. Then I started questioning my insanity, and if I really had it in me to become an Ironman. Then I began to have a yelling match in my head and nothing really quite made sense. The only thing that brought me back to reality was a soaring eagle that landed with so much grace and power on the beach just beside us that I found a kick within my legs for one brief fleeting moment. Then it was back in my head where I began to repeat to myself, “home, home, home,” yet all I could think about was Cardiac Hill – our final climb of the day, which was slowly approaching. With more than 180k behind me and perhaps a bit of heat stroke kicking my ass, I was thinking about every which way this hill was going to live up to its name and actually kill me. So, when it finally did appear, curse words fumbled from my clumsy mouth, and Vince gave me words of encouragement like he was leading me into battle. With his hand on my back, he literally helped push me up that entire god damned mountain. Even as I sucked back oxygen like a dying cat and made horrible dry heaving sounds, he continued to push and continued to tell me that quitting wasn’t an option. My body screamed in agony and I yelled back to him that whatever my legs were doing, moving or not, it was all I had.
By the time we reached the top, I literally toppled off my bike and lay in a heap on the side of the highway. At first I was certain I would not get up as the earth spun around me, and I struggled to sit upright. I sat there with my head in my hand for only a minute or two before I finally decided I was no longer interested in hearing my internal voice whine any longer. So, with that I got to my feet, clipped in and carried on for what would be the longest 12k of my life back to home base.
We were out on the road for about nine hours, with a total riding time of 7 hours and 45 minutes. I can say without a doubt this was the biggest mental and physical challenge of my life. I learned that applying sunscreen more than once in a nine hour day is essential and that it should cover every last inch of your body. I learned that my bum is not as cushiony as it looks, and that eating a Snickers doesn’t always morph you back into your normal self. More importantly though, I learned how far I will push myself. For 52 kilometres I battled one of the toughest mental fights of my life – to give up or keep going. I chose the only option I’ve ever known – put on those big girl panties and keep going. Looking back on the journey, I have no regrets. It was a fantastic learning experience and now I’m that much more prepared for when I do it again.

Rust2Iron 4 MS

RUST2IRONNot unlike almost every other night, I sit here on my couch unwinding from the day with ice bags draped over my legs, recuperating from another week of swimming, biking and running. It’s in these moments of easing my pain with icing, stretching, foam rolling, and massaging that I remember the words of one of my training partners; “Aly, you just get used to being uncomfortable.” And so I’ve come to learn that she is exactly right. Training for Ironman is not supposed to be easy or comfortable, it’s meant to push your limits, and it’s how you mentally handle those limitations that will ultimately determine whether you make it to that finish line or not. So, every time I get that unbearable pain that stabs into my inner shin, I scream at it to shut up and go away; every time my lungs burn and my heart pounds almost out of my chest, I block it out and tell myself to work harder; every time my knee pierces with pain, or my feet hurt, my shoulders ache or my hair flies in my face and messes with my rhythm, I hear a familiar voice that says, “suck it up, princess and put your big girl panties on.” That familiar voice comes from a friend near and dear to me, someone who I’ve never seen give up, and who always stands proud and just keeps on putting one foot in front of the other. She is the strongest woman I know, and even through her battle with Multiple Sclerosis, she continuously lives life being uncomfortable, managing the pain, and always just moving forward. She has been a constant source of inspiration for me throughout life and this journey because she is always in the back of my head pushing me to be better, no matter what obstacle stands in my way. To give back and to say thank you, I am dedicating my race to raising money for MS.  After all these long training hours, tears, aches, pains, triumphs, and failures, I want to cross that finish line accomplishing something bigger than myself; something that makes a difference. Please join me in my fundraising journey, and support the cause to help those living with MS by checking out my fundraising page here. Any financial help is wholeheartedly appreciated, but any and all moral support is just as welcome. Thanks to those who continue to follow me as I embark on this wild and crazy ride.