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.”

The hurdles of running

It’s Monday night on a cold January evening as I glance out the window to see dark cloudy skies blanketing the horizon. It sends a shiver down my arms, and my mind reverts back to the same mental battle I’d been fighting all day – how to survive half -marathon Monday. Although the work day is almost done, I’m wishing the clock would slow down just a bit. Typical me, avoiding the inevitable. I look down loathingly at my workout bag on the floor, overflowing with warm winter running clothes, and I can still smell the waft of chlorine from my swim earlier this morning. It makes me ponder how I’m going to muster up the energy for workout number two. This is just how Monday’s go. From the beginning of December to about the middle of April, we run long on Monday evenings with times ranging from 1 hour 15 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes. It’s a slow, social pace designed to build our base fitness at the beginning of the season, yet it’s one of the hardest workouts I face all year. There really isn’t anything all that arduous about running at a casual, social pace for hours on end. All I have to do is put one foot in front of the other and keep on moving. But, every Monday by about 1 in the afternoon, I start to think about it, over think it, and then dread it. Maybe it’s because it’s the first four months of the season, and I feel heavy and out of shape, and the nights are dark, the air is cold, the frost is fierce, the ice is treacherous and the snow is slick. Or maybe it’s because I have a strong love-hate relationship with running, and this is the mental battle I go through before every run.
Long distance running has never been my thing, and it was never meant to be my thing. With broad shoulders and tree trunk-like legs, I was more suited towards soccer, basketball, field hockey, and rowing. No one ever looked at me and said, “gee, you’d make a great runner.” And they were right, I was terrible. But deep down, I always wanted to be a great runner. I would enter road races and compare my times to my peers, and it would always end with the same disappointment and frustration. I could never understand why they were fast and I was slow. I started to blame my body type, and lived by the excuse that I just wasn’t designed to run, and I started to hate it. Yet, hate it or love it, I kept running, and eventually decided that, despite my poor running background, I would sign up for an Ironman, which involved a lot of running.
When I showed up for my first run workout with my training group two years ago, I was the slowest runner by miles, and I was always self-conscious about being that girl who would never fit in with the pack. I questioned myself – a lot, and without really knowing it, I set the expectation for myself that I would always be slow.
After almost two years of consistent training, I have learned a lot about setting expectations and overcoming some tough mental battles. Most of this learning has been achieved by simply doing, but it’s also been from the wise words of my team mates and the inspiration from others. In just the past year, I am slowly coming to understand that my limiting factor isn’t my body, it’s my mind. I’ve had to prove to myself that it doesn’t matter if my legs are skinny, or long, or short, or thick, but it’s what I tell myself I can do. Excuses will never allow me to succeed and it’s only once I’ve let go of my inhibitions that I wil truly see what I can do.
My road to Ironman didn’t start because someone said I would be good at it, I started because I wanted to see what I was made of and what I could do, and a large part of that journey has been learning to overcome mental challenges. 
While I’m still the slowest runner by miles, I am able to move my tree trunk legs just a little bit faster, and my pace is improving, my lungs aren’t dying, my heart rate is lower, and I’m overcoming a lifelong struggle to accept running into my life.  It still remains a love-hate relationship, and I believe half-marathon Mondays will always be a struggle, but I’m working on it and maybe one day, I will truly love to run.

 

A thanksgiving family run affair

Training feels like a faraway memory. I often joke that these days I’m more into Netflix and drinking marathons than running marathons. But on a Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I found some time and energy to fit in a race.
For an October morning, the air was warmer than I expected as the sun peeked over the horizon greeting us on a strip of seaside road in downtown Victoria. It’s race morning and not unlike other race mornings, I am immersed in my surroundings, absorbing the overload of familiar senses, from the sight of intermingled bodies, to the smell of sweaty skin and the sounds of excited chatter. There are thousands of us all huddled together like a herd of sheep. Despite the same feelings of any other race morning running through my nervous hands, this morning felt different. Waiting for a race start usually means I’m standing on the shores of a body of water peeing one final time into my extra tight neoprene wet suit. Peeing in my race shorts in the middle of the street was not an option. I hadn’t run a road race in over two years and standing there on dry land with my running shoes on felt awkward. Needless to say, thanks to a not-so brilliant idea from my sister-in-law for a family race, here I was at the start line of an 8K road race with the intention of running a personal best time.
Over the eight weeks leading up to the race, I tried to get out for a run four times a week. It usually ended up being two, maybe three times, with the excuse that I was still recovering from Ironman. As the weeks went on, I just started telling myself that it was ok to not want to run, and it was ok to want to drink a bottle of wine instead, and so I did. Slowly, I started to become a shell of my former fit and dedicated self. My collection of empty wine bottles increased and so did the numbers on my scale. Still, I was convinced I would pull off an 8K PB. Race day would bring some hard realities to fruition.
As the gun blasted to start the race, I headed off feeling strong and confident. Unfortunately, that only last for just over five minutes, or until about the first kilometre marker. My pace was on track, but my heart rate was skyrocketing and so was my breathing. I screamed curse words silently in my mind. First it was directed at the extra 10 pounds I had gained, then at all the wine, gin, beer and coolers I had consumed over the past couple months, then the silent screaming turned on all the other runners who were slowly but effortlessly passing me.
The first 4K felt like torture. It was a gradual climb – and by climb, I mean a very slight incline, but I could feel it in my legs as I stomped along like a lame horse. As I approached the 3K marker I saw my brother already heading back to the finish, looking fresh and strong. The silent cursing started again. Of course he has the running genes in the family.
Shortly after, I hit the turnaround point and rounded the cone and I actually started to suffer. At this point in the run I had planned to kick my pace up and kill it back home, but my plans were all but an impending failure. I could feel the blood rushing to my cheeks and could hear my exasperated breathing intensify. Other runners must have looked at me and thought I was dying. In the near distance, I could see an aid station approaching and I had to think about what I was going to do with it. Normally for anything less than a half Ironman I wouldn’t even think of using one, yet on this day, things were different; things were getting ugly. As I approached the table, I desperately reached for a cup of water, which I threw on my chest, and then a cup of some sort of electrolyte drink, which I ineffectively, spilled half down my front. I felt foolish and if I wasn’t hurting so bad, I would have laughed. Everyone else around me seemed like they were on a Sunday stroll, and every few metres, out of the corner of my eye, I would see all sorts of people moving in unorthodox running styles, moving past me. They looked clunky and terrible, but they were not red in the face from laboured breathing, nor ready to fall down flat on the pavement. That was me.  At one point, just a few metres in front of me, I could even see someone taking a ‘selfie’ as they jogged along.  This is when the self-talk kicked in. “Just be grateful you are able to do what you do, Aly, you are out here doing it.” Then I thought, “no, you don’t get to have excuses!” Again, I cursed my last couple months of indiscretions.
Rounding the final bend of the route, I saw the finish line off in the distance, which, in fact, was not where we started, but about 200 metres beyond that. I didn’t really feel like taking another step. Then I looked to my left and saw my parents cheering me on with my bright eyed 5 year old niece. OK, maybe I could take another step. I tried to smile and wave and look strong, but I feared that I ended up looking like I was in awkward pain. 

Awkward pain look.

After crossing the line and receiving my medal, I found my family.  I tried to play it off that I was cool, but quickly resigned to the fact I was near death and sitting down was a high priority. They laughed in spite of my defeat.
I was nowhere near my 8K PB but I did beat my course PB from two years ago by over three minutes. It was my consolation prize and a lesson learned in expectations. You can’t set the bar high and expect to get there without hard work and commitment. Heading into race day, I had neither of those. But it was fun to laugh at myself.
Since race day I’ve continued to allow myself to have late nights at the bar and otherwise indulge in non-training activities, with the caveat that November 1 is the deadline for getting back on track. I’ve had my fun, but I have a different kind of fun that I’m longing to get back to. So, back to the grind I will go, ready to commit and work hard.
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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.

 

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.
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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.