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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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.

From running scared to running happy


In the past two months, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with two incredible athletes who have shared their stories with me as age group triathletes. Throughout our discussions, I’ve learned not only about their personal ups and downs in the sport, but I’ve been challenged to reflect on my own story.  In particular, Vince and Katrina both spoke of their struggles with running, and it’s one that has also been a bump in the road for me.

I’ve been fairly candid in the past about my relationship with running and my fight to morph that into a healthy, loving relationship. For as long as I can remember, running has been hard, whether I’m on a casual run or running a race. It’s hard on my heart, my lungs, and my joints. It burns, it’s tiring, and it hurts. And to top it all off, I’m slow as molasses. I’m constantly at the back of the pack. No matter how hard I push, or try, the faster kids just keep getting faster and I feel like I’m moving in slow motion. The fact of the matter is, for most people, building your speed in endurance running takes time and patience – something which I have worked on building over the years, but still lack.

In my first year of training, I barely had a handful of 10K’s under my feet, and with the increase in mileage and intense training load, my body rebelled and I spent the majority of the season trying to combat shin splints. It wasn’t really much more than an extremely painful nuisance, but it made it incredibly difficult to develop as a runner when it felt like someone was stabbing a screwdriver into my shin with every step. I couldn’t break an hour for 10K, or 30 minutes for 5K. I was not a good runner. At first I started to come up with excuses – I don’t have the right build, or my quads are too big. Now while those things may be true, looking back on it, those excuses affected my performance. I didn’t believe in myself. Physically able or not, I was creating a mental disadvantage.

After a year of training, I started to see some improvements. The shin splints eventually disappeared as my body adjusted to the training and with time, I started to break through with some personal best times. But with a torn MCL just a few short months into the season, everything came to a grinding halt, and all the progress was put on hold. After missing more than two months of running, I would never realize my full potential for that year.

In December 2015, I started year number three of training. I vowed this would be the year of redemption for all the ups and downs, side tracks, health issues and injuries. This was the year for focus. I remember walking into my coach’s office on a cold December night, right before our first long-run of the year, and he looked me right in the eye, and said, “You’re running with the big girls this year. We are going to make you into a good runner.” I was terrified. The “big girls” were fast. Their long-run pace was almost on par with my race pace. I remember last year, I would look at their long-run distances to see how much ground they covered, and I was always in awe. Since day one, I have looked up to them and longed for a time when I could hang with them. I often wondered what it would be like to join them on long-run Monday – What did they talk about? Where did they go? What did they do? The world seemed so uncharted, but here was my moment, staring me straight in the face. So, I looked right back at my coach, and said, ok.

It wasn’t easy. For the first few weeks, my heart rate was higher than it probably should have been, and after a certain distance, I would start to get tired and slow, and I feared I was holding them back. But, I soon found my belonging. I learned that their long-runs weren’t much different than mine, and that we all had our own quirks, and pains and tired moments. I knew that once it came down to tempo running or speed work they would leave me in their dust, but for the time being I cherished the moments on long-run Mondays when I got to hang with the “big girls.”

Over the winter, my long-run pace dropped by 20-30 seconds per kilometre from the previous year, my heart rate slowed down, and I was hitting personal best times every week. And once we kicked things up a notch with tempo runs, my times continued to drop. Since I first started training with my coach three years ago, I’ve taken seven minutes off my 10K and more than five minutes off my 5K. While, the pain, the hurt, and the burning never went away, I was quicker and stronger, and at the end of every run, I was smiling bigger than I ever had before.

Looking back on my running journey, I don’t see a physical transformation. Yes, I am stronger, and I have more miles beneath my feet, but at the end of the day it became mental for me. All I needed was for someone to believe in me, and on that cold December night, my coach did. It forced me to stop over thinking, stop over critiquing and just do it. As Vince Cavaliere said, “stop running scared.”  I will be forever grateful to my coach for believing in me, and to my “big girl” training partners, including Vince, for spending all winter long running mile after mile with me, pushing me to be better and to just “stop thinking about it.” Pushing me out of my comfort zone, pushed me to become a better runner.

More often than not, it’s the mental breakthrough that will push our physical limitations to a place we never thought we could reach. Nowadays, my relationship with running is stronger and healthier. Yes, there are times when it hurts, but there are many more times when it feels freeing, empowering and simply, amazing. I may not be at the front of the pack, but I’m inching my way up and I’m teaching myself a lot of patience and happy thoughts along the way.
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