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. 


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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.

New year – new goals – new journey

The end of January came fast. And, so did October, November and the end of 2016. It seems as though I blinked and four months had come and gone.

In October, I finished out the racing year with my first pure half marathon in Vancouver, and subsequently spent the majority of November and December catching up on life. I focused more on friends, family and activities that weren’t swimming, biking or running. In past years, I’ve enjoyed taking this time to allow my mind and body to rest, and to remove some of the pressures, forget about a training schedule and fly a bit more by the seat of my pants.

This past month, I’ve been working on re-focusing back into training and gearing up for another Ironman season. I think more so than in past years, I’ve struggled to get into my grove. It’s been a grind to get back into 6am swim workouts, running in miserably cold weather, and spinning on my trainer for seemingly endless hours. It’s made for a lot of flip flopping in my mind about whether or not I truly want to commit myself to another year of the twice-a-day, six days a week training schedule, and the 226 kilometre race in July for a third time in a row. I’ve said, “yes,” then “no,” then “yes,” and “no,” again. It’s not that I don’t love this sport, because I do, but this is commitment that goes beyond being a hobby or staying active – I train to race and compete, and I’m either in it or I’m out. In my eyes, there is no middle ground.  The winter is a tough time to get back at it. The weather is cold, the skies are dark, the body is out of shape, the mind is more fragile, and it makes it harder to see the joys I get out of training and racing. I know this is just the ebbs and flows of a long eight month journey, and I will get over them, and then I will go through them again at some point down the road. For now, I know that winter will pass, and eventually, I will see the light, both literally and figuratively.

patience

As I look ahead to 2017, I think about a commitment I made to myself at the start of the new year – to choose a word that I would live by and apply to the way I approach each day. That word is “patience.” I’ve never been patient. More specifically, I’ve never been patient with myself. I’m guilty of expecting a lot and not giving myself either time or forgiveness to get there. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years beating myself up because my running wasn’t improving fast enough, or I wasn’t cutting weight fast enough, or I wasn’t changing a flat tire fast enough. I wanted everything to happen now. But in doing so, I was missing out on giving myself credit for the small gains and the overall journey of becoming a better athlete. I had forgotten to see how far I had come and the success along the way. In the past, this attitude that “I’m never going to be good enough” has made me almost throw in the towel more than a few times, and it’s a killer for my spirit and passion. I need to learn how to slow down and take the time to learn and appreciate the challenges, and appreciate that, with hard work and dedication, good results will come. As Elvis Stojko said, “It takes a lot of patience and a lot of time to create something worthwhile.”

Here’s to a new year of goals and racing and training and patience. I’m excited to see what 2017 will bring.

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Finding success in failure

For the past 10 weeks, I’ve had one goal in mind – to set a personal best time in a half marathon. I’ve raced the distance in triathlon events a couple times before, but this would be the first without swimming or biking. I think it goes without saying that the goal of running faster in a pure running event should be fairly attainable, by at least 15 to 20 minutes. After some discussions with my coach, we settled on the goal of 1 hour 45 minutes. At the time, and to be completely honest, right up until the week before the race, it felt daunting. To run a 1:45 would mean I would be running at a pace that earlier this year was on par with my 5K pace. But, I trusted my coach, which in turn made me believe this was possible.
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On the Friday morning before race day I was getting ready to hit the road when I started to feel a bit “off.” At the time I brushed it off as nerves, and for the next 12 hours that was all it seemed to be, until about midway through Saturday when it hit me like a ton of bricks. My stomach was in knots and nothing I ate stayed in for very long. I was curled up in a ball under the bed sheets, and that’s when the tears started. I was disappointed and frustrated for all those hours of hard work just to get to race day in less than optimal form. By around 6:00 that night, I found the energy to join friends for a pasta dinner, but by later that evening my stomach was doing somersaults.

On race morning, I felt like I had lost five pounds and my fuel tank was on zero. At that point, I could have opted out, or simply half jogged, half walked the race, but I have this relentless stubbornness, and going in half way wasn’t an option, even if my body disagreed. That mind versus body battle is an interesting one. I’ve had it a million times and each time I can never predict which one will be victorious.

At the risk of sharing too much information, I popped almost half a pack of Immodium and headed towards the start line. Within the first kilometre, I felt depleted and lethargic, but still believed there was a chance. By 5k, I was still optimistic and was only about one minute off my goal pace. By about 9 kilometres, I knew I was struggling because I started to look at my watch more than usual, and I could feel a wobble in my legs. At 35 minutes, as planned, I took my first gel, and realized my initial nutrition plan on a day like today would not be enough. My stomach felt like it was eating itself.

It was by about the 13 kilometre marker when I knew that I wasn’t going to hit my goal; now it was about finishing. As I rounded a downhill corner, I looked up to see a familiar face in the crowd, Keri. She was cheering loudly and I tried so hard to give her a smile, but feared that it came off more like a grimace. On a good day, my smile comes naturally, yet not so much on this day. About 500 metres up the road, I slowed to a brief walk, allowing my body a slight rest to see if it would help – not really – so instead I yelled at myself to get going; one foot in front of the other.screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-5-35-20-pm
When I finally saw the finish chute, I gave it everything I had. The faster I ran, the faster it would be over. I did not have the energy to celebrate; I could hardly stand. I barreled my way through the crowds of other runners, found a tree, and sat under it on the cold, wet ground. I was done. My mind and body could finally agree on one thing, it was time to rest.

My race time was disappointing – I did not hit my goal. I got a PB, but not the one I wanted, and it’s a difficult thing to find success in failure. It’s difficult to look at what went right instead of finding everything that went wrong. I have a bad habit of dwelling. I’m constantly having to remind myself that bad races happen. Sometimes we make tactical errors and fail in our execution, and sometimes our failure is simply out of our control. Not every day is perfect, and neither is my body; it goes through ups and downs. I recognize that dwelling on “down” moments does not do me any favours, and that it’s best to leave those moments behind and move on.

Tiger Woods once said, “Winning is not always the barometer of getting better.” I may have missed my goal on this day, but that does not define my accomplishments. That permanently etched time on the Internet does not always represent the work, the other successes, or me. This is something I am constantly working on – realizing what did go right and celebrating that. And, realizing there will be plenty more races and plenty more opportunities for failure and success. In the end though, it’s all a part of the learning experience and becoming a stronger and faster competitor.

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Chasing the unknown

It’s been awhile since I last saw down to write a story. In fact, I’ve been relatively quiet. Months have passed since Ironman and although I had the intentions of sharing my journey in writing, that day has more or less become a distant memory. In the off-season I’ve been training for a half marathon while I contemplate what next year will bring for me. It’s been an interesting balance of more free time for life stuff, getting in some decent workouts so I don’t go completely mad, and pondering where to go from here.

Last year, Ironman was more or less about finishing. In previous seasons, I had been sidelined by serious illness and some injuries, and this year I was simply hoping to stay healthy and injury free so I could train consistently through a solid eight months and realize some real goals and results. And, despite a nasty cold the week before the race, I finished my training season in excellent race ready form. I went into the day with high expectations, hoping to shave more than an hour off the previous year. Despite taking 10 minutes off the swim, and 18 minutes off the bike, I only ended up being 22 minutes faster. Dehydration and heat got the better of me and by the time I hit the run, I wasn’t even sure that I would finish. I had taken in almost 10 bottles of liquids, yet I hadn’t peed since the start of the swim. I knew I was in trouble. Incredibly, I did finish. Once again I relished in that amazing moment of crossing the finish line. Although I was disappointed, I allowed myself to celebrate the achievement of simply becoming an Ironman for the second time around.
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This year’s race reminded me that the day comes with many variables and that it is very challenging to execute everything according to plan. This year was a lot tougher. The mental battle was excruciating and physically, I felt pain all the way through to my bones – I guess that’s what it means to go from finisher to  competitor. Not reaching my time goal was a tough pill to swallow. All those months of working my butt off, and I fell short of my goal. I know I could do better, I know I could be faster, but that is the beast of Ironman, sometimes it gets the better of you. Now it’s back to square one. There is no guarantee that I will go through another season healthy and injury free, or that I will hit that start line as ready as I was this year. There are no guarantees; period. So, do I go back to that day in and day out, eight months of two-a-day,  working my butt off training to not know if I will ever get faster or ever get closer to a podium finish? Is it in me? Is my Ironman journey over? I have asked myself these questions over and over again.

The reality is I love this sport. There is almost nothing else in this world that I’m more passionate about and more fired up about than swimming, biking and running. It’s addicting. I love the challenge, the chase, the ups, the downs, the heartache, the wins, the losses; I do truly do love it all. And, while race day is the icing on the cake, some of the best stuff is what you get to accomplish in the day in and day out training. The personal bests, the new adventures, the challenges, the friendships, the muscles that scream at you in pain, but in some sick way you flourish in it. Those are the reasons I keep coming back for more.

It took me a lot longer to realize it this year, but now I know for certain that when December hits, I’m back at it.  I’ll never know what race day will bring, but I guess that’s part of the thrill – the unknown , unwritten ending to the story. Really though, I’ll never know until I try.