Race Recap – Victoria 70.3

Race season is here. Training mileage goes up, personal time becomes scarce, the nerves settle in, fatigue catches up, and you wonder how you will have that one last push to make it through to the end. I’ve been here before; I know this story. I know the emotions and how it all unfolds, but I still love it. I love putting everything to the test, pushing my limits, unleashing my hard work, and almost more importantly, learning. In my first race of the season this past weekend at the Ironman 70.3 in Victoria, B.C., I learned that experience is a damn good teacher, and that nothing is as good as pure, hard work.

Since day one of training this year, and for the first time since I started this journey, I have been healthy and injury free (knock on wood). Because of this, I’ve been able to commit to six months of uninterrupted, dedicated, persistent, hard work. On race morning, I was physically more ready than I’ve ever been on any other race day for the past three years. The year-after-year training and good health speaks volumes to this, as does a coach who believes in me and isn’t afraid to push my limits. As long as I executed according to the plan, I was destined for a PB race.

As the minutes ticked down to race start, I delicately tip toed down the rocky path and towards the water. With a rolling start this year, we were all mashed in between two steel fences that funneled down towards the water. I felt like a pig being shoved off to slaughter. We all seemed to move in a mass together, shuffling down the line, fearful and anxious of what lie at the opening of the fences. But once I found a gap, I felt as though I could breathe again and the nerves turned into excitement. Without any hesitation, I took two deep breaths and ran into the water. Despite, the rolling start, the swim was still chaotic. A mass of bodies all funneling through in the same direction, well, mostly all in the same direction, meant there were flailing bodies I needed to push out of my way. After fighting through the mass, I was focused, calm and rhythmic.

The course was cut short due to a weed situation, so the swim was fast and I was happy to get back on my own two feet 400 metres earlier. As I approached the final buoy and sighted just ahead of me, I realized there was no shore, but a ramp that provided an exit out of the deep water. I was back in a mass of flailing bodies and people frantically trying to hoist themselves out. I tried to clamber up on my own but my eyes quickly darted to find a helping hand to pull me to the safety of dry land. Then it was the long run down the mats and into T2.
12_m-100723530-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1306_010916-1756542 With my shoes on, I threw on my sunglasses and grabbed for my helmet. Yet, to my frantic shock it would not fit onto my head. Here is an example of where experience is a good teacher. If you’re going to try a new hair style the night before the race, make sure your helmet still fits properly. My thick braided hair was preventing the helmet from fitting on my head. I pride myself on being fast in transition – playing with my hair was not conducive to being fast. As I tried to slam it onto my head, my glasses became dislodged and hung around my mouth. I made the quick decision to hurl the sunglasses at the ground, and go with however the helmet was going to sit. Then, as I pulled my bike off the rack, my brake lever got stuck in the spokes of the bike next to me. I thought, that’s it, I’m never getting out of here. I heaved on the bike, trying not to destroy my neighbour’s bike or mine, and finally freedom. As I got on the bike with my helmet half way down my forehead and almost down to my eyes, I took two deep breaths and tried to shake the jitters.
1_m-100723530-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1306_000379-1756531 19_m-100723530-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1306_016580-1756549The first half of the bike was spectacular with great winding descents and flat sections perfect for tucking into TT and settling into a fast pace. The second half of the course presented a bit of climbing, although it was nothing my training hadn’t prepared me for. It was at about the 60K mark though, when I was presented with a bit of a challenge, grabbing a bottle at an aid station. Ordinarily, this should be a simple and routine part of racing, but after my spectacular crash at Ironman Canada last year at an aid station, there was a bit of hesitation. Another moment in which experience has taught me a good lesson – be decisive, slow down and, for god’s sakes, do not reach across your bike to grab a bottle. As I looked down at my two empty water bottles I realized it was time to conquer my fears. Almost 50 metres out, I start yelling for Gatorade, then I slowly pulled up on the brake levers until I slowed to almost a turtle’s pace, took a deep breath, and reached out with my right, not left, arm to grab the bottle. A slight nervous wobble and I was on my way. I don’t care how many seconds or minutes I lost while taking the time to think and slow down, crashing is much, much worse.
20_m-100723530-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1306_020676-1756550After aid station success, I could get back to focusing on the final kilometres and getting back to transition and back to my own two feet. As much as I love to ride my bike, I’m always grateful to no longer have to overthink the possibility of crashing, mechanical failures or flat tires. And after 90K in the saddle, my lady parts are also grateful.

While racking my bike back in T2, I could hear my dad somewhere behind me yell my name, and I couldn’t help but smile. Having your friends and family chase you around on race day is one of the best parts of racing. It’s even better in the moments that amongst all the hundreds of kilometres you’ve covered and the thousands of other people that they manage to find you for 30 seconds, and offer you an encouraging cheer and high five.

As I threw on my shoes and grabbed my race belt and hat, I paused for half a second. Compared to T1, this transition was blazing fast and I wanted to be 100% sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. I do still believe there will be a day when I run out of transition with my helmet on. Not today – I couldn’t wait to get that thing off my head.
61_m-100723530-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1306_058235-1756591Heading out onto the run I had an incredible kick in my step – I was ready to move. For the next 14K, my pace was dialed in, and I relished in the quiet peacefulness of the trail – it was the perfect setting for some suffering. Gradually heaviness set into my legs, my breathing and heart rate went up, and I could feel those dreaded blisters forming on my toes. With about 4 or 5 kilometres to go I saw my coach, and I never thought I would be so grateful; I needed him to yell something at me, anything to get me moving with purpose again. “Bob is a minute ahead of you,” he yelled. “Go get him!” It was all I needed. Experience has also taught me that pain is just a feeling. Pushing through the pain and finding your beast mode is one of the most rewarding parts of training and racing. I may not have looked graceful, I may have sounded like a dying donkey, but I was determined to catch Bob. At the out-and-back turn-around I saw him, but I would really have to turn on the engines to catch him. The kick may have come too late.

Rounding the final bend, I saw my family one final time staggered along the last 500 metres. In true celebration style, I turned my neon trucker hat backwards, leaned around the corner, high fived my anxiously awaiting 6-year-old niece, and happily in pain ran through the finish chute and across the finish line.
45_m-100723530-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1306_036202-1756575 43_m-100723530-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1306_036200-1756573 6_m-100723530-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1306_008396-1756536Looking back on the past six months, I see a journey that has, for the first time, not been overshadowed by illness or injury. I see a journey of dedication and hard work where I could focus on getting better and faster every week without interruption. I got to pour my heart and soul into this season by facing different challenges and breaking through my own limitations. And it all paid off with a 45 minute PB over last year. Although, I missed catching Bob by 30 seconds, I did knock 30 minutes off the run, five minutes off my bike, and 16 minutes off my swim (although it was 400 metres shorter).

It’s five weeks to the big show in Whistler for Ironman Canada, and although all I want to do is rest, there’s lots of work to be done. The final push is the hardest and some of the biggest and toughest workouts are still on the horizon. That being said, I’m feeling strong, and I can see the end to this long road and the finish line is looking good.

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Katrina Cavaliere

On a warm April morning, Katrina Cavaliere is hunched over her bicycle in the most aerodynamic position she can manage as she grinds it out on a Saturday morning time trial. From a mile away, you can see a fire in her eyes burning with relentless determination, strength, and a hint of competitiveness. With every driving force of her legs, she is working to be better and stronger than she was the day before and to be one step closer to the athlete she wants to become.

Athletic hasn’t always been a characteristic Katrina would choose to describe herself. She spent almost a lifetime on the sidelines, spectating, but never participating. “I’ve always been kind of the fat kid in my head,” she admits. “I was not very athletic, even though I wanted to be. I often quit because I felt people were judging me or looking at me.” Katrina’s time was mostly consumed with building a real estate company with her husband and raising three children. It wasn’t until Katrina was in her 40s that she found a sport that would ultimately change her life and catapult her into taking on one of the toughest physical challenges she’s ever endured.

After spending a couple years running with a local club, Katrina stumbled onto the sport of triathlon when a friend suggested they try a local sprint race. From there, she slowly began to include more swimming, biking and running into her life, even taking on a few more shorter distance races on relay teams with friends.
164638_10200298600280019_1721397358_n 10269654_10152440000558209_3227608499347704001_nIn 2015, after spending a year of supporting her husband, Vince, in his journey to Ironman Canada, Katrina decided she was ready to step out of her comfort zone bigger than she ever had before, and signed on the dotted line for the half Ironman race in Victoria, B.C.

Once she had made the commitment to race, her mindset had to quickly adjust from years of saying, “I can’t,” to “I can.” She knew the road wasn’t going to be easy, but she was also not quite prepared for the workouts her coach would throw her into right from the start. “I remember he would give me a workout and in my mind I was like, are you f**king kidding me, Maurice?” Katrina recalls that in the beginning when she looked at some of the workouts on paper they seemed insurmountable. It took an adjustment and time for her to break through her mental barrier and realize that she could do it, she just needed to believe in the process, her coach and above all else, herself.

In the following two months, Katrina soon adapted to her new training program and started to feel healthy, strong and fit, but more importantly, she started to let go of her insecurities and her fears. “I realized about two months after I started training that I did not go to bed feeling fat, I did not wake up feeling fat, I did not think about it all day long,” she recalls. “I just realized that it’s about strength, and everyone is different.”
10320469_10205017316605765_2534546721129152669_nKatrina was physically and mentally in a prime place to begin her journey, but it was just a couple short months later when she would be hit with her biggest challenge yet. During an interval training run Katrina suddenly felt a “weird” popping sensation deep in her ankle. At the time though, she didn’t think too much of it and continued running. “I was trying not to be a wimp. I knew everyone was dealing with their own injuries,” she says.  But the pain was worsening and swelling started to hinder the movement of her ankle. Stubborn and determined to keep on track, Katrina continued to ignore her injury for the next three to four weeks until her coach finally ordered her off to the doctor. Admittedly, Katrina says she made the mistake of not acknowledging it soon enough. For the next two months, she would bounce around from doctor to doctor trying to determine her prognosis. She would also spend many hours in the pool water running. “It was frustrating because you’re watching everyone improve on their running, and you’re driving to go water run by yourself in the pool,” she says. “I had worked so hard to get where I was, but it could always be worse. You just move forward.”

In the weeks and months ahead, Katrina continued to do just that and forged forward with her training, doing what she could, making the most of it, and coming to an acceptance with her injury. “The ankle was going to be what it was going to be, I did everything I could,” she says. Nothing, not even this injury, were going to stop Katrina from completing her race, even if it meant hobbling through the run.

On June 14, 2015, Katrina walked under the Ironman starting arch and into the cool waters of Elk Lake with her husband by her side; his presence helped put her at ease. “Vince has always believed in me, more than I see in myself sometimes,” she says. In her mind, she knew the work to get there was done, and any insecurities and doubts had to be pushed aside; it was time to put everything to the test.
11062336_10205555768706731_8400553955955115463_n “Once the gun went off, I was calm. I couldn’t believe how calm I was. I thought, I can do this, I can swim.” Katrina settled into her rhythm and made it back to shore in a time that would position her well for the start of the bike. But it was not long after that when she heard the dreaded “pop” sound from her tire. She had a flat and it would be more than 20 minutes until she was back on course again. “I had practiced changing a tire once before,” she admits. “It was so hard watching everyone else ride by as time ticked on.” But Katrina did what she has done since day one of her journey and forged on, never willing to give up. As she approached the bike dismount line, she recalls being happy to be off her bike and back on her own two feet, but it also meant she was in for 21 kilometres of pounding on her injured ankle.
11425861_10205565653833853_4934052702926348750_n “By about 11 kilometres my ankle was throbbing,” she recalls. “The swelling had gone up so much that the tape was digging into my foot.” Katrina was forced to a walk. In her mind, she battled with knowing she was losing time, but it was all she could do to keep moving forward, one step at a time. “The last 5K hurt. My ankle wasn’t moving anymore and the swelling continued to get worse,” she says. As Katrina tried to compensate for the pain, other parts of her body felt the shift and become aggravated. She could feel it from her hips to her toes. Still though, Katrina wasn’t stopping for anything. “I wouldn’t stop, unless it broke, even then I would have crawled across the finish line,” she laughs.
11183466_10205565653313840_9110143333953860346_nWith less than one kilometre to go, Katrina mustered everything she had to turn up her cadence for the finish line. This was the moment she had worked so hard for, and in that moment, she was just grateful not to be dragging herself towards the finish.  “I remember seeing the red carpet and I saw my friends, and my mom waiting to give me my medal,” she recalls. “And then I looked up and I’m like, oh my god, I’m done.”
11407187_10205555793627354_8384677515528082510_n 11391531_10205565654233863_8406264640706543457_n 11400960_10205565656473919_6912255779107351125_n Katrina finished her race in a time of 6 hours 56 minutes, and with a smile on her face. “This was me doing something at 48 years-old; it took me a long time to believe in myself,” she says. “But it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still try something different and push yourself.”
11232232_10205565654673874_8307179600904249070_n Katrina credits the sport of triathlon for pushing her from the sidelines to being a competitor and an athlete. The fire that burns in her eyes during every workout comes from a place of determination and a place of knowing she is stronger both mentally and physically than ever before in her life.

“I knew I had strength, it was just finding it,” she smiles.
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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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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.”