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.

Merritt Loop round 3 and then some…

The final weeks to Ironman Canada means there is still a lot of work to be done. Most of the biggest workouts are still on the horizon and it all started last Sunday with the annual Merritt Loop – a ride covering 200 kilometres with more than 2,000 metres of climbing and often in challenging weather conditions. It’s what I like to call, a ‘big girl panty’ ride. This is the third year I’ve ventured out on the journey and the third time I’ve sat down to tell the story; each year, it’s been a different tale.
FullSizeRender (2)The first year, I was inexperienced and naive, and I bonked with 52 kilometres left in the ride. I think I best summarized it when I said, “It kicked my ass.” I remember when I reached the summit of Cardiac Hill – the final steep climb just beyond the 180 kilometre mark – I collapsed off the bike with neither the energy nor the care to un-clip from my pedals. My training partner, Vince, captured the perfect image of me sitting halfway in a ditch on the side of the road with defeat exuding from every inch of my body.

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Last year, I vowed that I had learned my lesson and that redemption would be mine. Unfortunately for me, on the back end of the ride we were hammered by relentless headwinds and soaring 35 degree temperatures. I ran out of water and the delirium of heat stroke set in. We were out there for an elapsed time of 10 hours and 38 minutes. Yet again, another one of my training partners captured the perfect photo of me atop Cardiac Hill, this time lying flat out on the highway and again exuding defeat.
11695998_10153092903287861_4312962366059611938_nWhile I’ve been able to finish every Merritt Loop, I have not yet been able complete the 45 minute brick run afterwards or reach my goal of riding 200 kilometres. While the complete loop from start to finish is a few kilometres shy of 200K, it has always been my goal to put in the extra time to get to that number. In 2014, I was short 4.4 kilometres, and in 2015, it was just 700 metres! There was nothing left in me that could pedal another rotation.

When I saddled up this year, I was more prepared and determined than I’ve ever been to ride the 200 kilometres, complete my brick run and take a photo of myself on Cardiac Hill with a victorious smile on my face. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
13466536_10153796069092861_591032349321431953_nAs a middle of the pack cyclist amongst my group, I have been finding myself alone lately for most of the run and bike workouts. And, the Merritt Loop was no different; I was left alone with my thoughts and a long, lonely stretch of road. This year, unlike every other year, it was cold. My fingers were frozen and at times my teeth chattered against one another. Strong headwinds and rain on the other side of Logan Lake made the ride challenging and, at times, made me question myself. “Why do I like to be tortured? Why does anyone do Ironman? Why am I riding my bicycle in the middle of nowhere, by myself?” At times, I was happy and would sing songs about my granola bar, or my Gatorade, or the rain, or the number 60. At one point, when I couldn’t feel my fingers and all I could hear was the howling wind blowing past my frigid ears, I yelled curse words and cried. The best parts were when I smiled and laughed out loud. You could call me manic, but I think that’s just par for the course. Eight hours is a long time to be alone on your bike with nothing but your own thoughts. The true victory of the day though, was taking a selfie standing tall, proud and strong with a wide smile on my face at the top of Cardiac Hill. The picture that day was not of defeat, but success. I also, put in the extra 5 kilometres to get to 200K, and finished my brick run. For the first time, I had succeeded. It took smart planning, experience and a business-like attitude of just getting it done.
IMG_6159 IMG_6162In previous years, the Merritt Loop has defeated me to the point where I was forced to take the following two days off from training. This year, success meant the work was not over on Sunday evening. It meant I still had two more big workouts the following day – a gruelling set of 9X400 metres in the pool and a 26 kilometre run with tempo. I was already in pain from head to toe; it would take every ounce of physical and mental prowess I had to keep going.

By the time I crawled home Monday night, I was trashed. My body and mind were fried. I could barely lift my legs and simply standing still would make them shake. As I hobbled into the bathroom and looked down at my bloody feet, shaking legs, and salt stained clothes I burst into tears. I felt defeated, and again I questioned myself. What is with all the torture?
IMG_6170 IMG_6180 (1)Three years ago, I made a vow to change my life, to move on from the things that weren’t making me happy, to take on a challenge and live life every day with purpose. That plan didn’t include walking through life in comfort. The plan was to push beyond my limits. I’ve done that in more ways than one. This past weekend is a testament to that, and although it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, it’s making me stronger, faster and in the end, a happier human being.

In the coming weeks, there will be many more ‘big girl panty’ workouts and I have no doubt there will be more pain, blood and tears. But I’ve been to the finish line before, and every moment of this journey is worth it. It is worth proving to myself that I am strong, I am damn crazy and I am living my life right to the very edge. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
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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.

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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