New year – new goals – new journey

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

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

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

patience

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

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

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Finding success in failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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The final push

Just over a week ago, I dragged my body in my front door, passed out on the couch and didn’t wake up for almost ten hours. My body was beaten. There was chaffing in places I didn’t know could chafe, there was tender skin where there used to be toenails, I had blood stained socks, clothes so soaked in sweat and mud they could only be described as hazardous materials, and muscles that would scream if I put them near a bicycle or tried to make them to walk too swiftly downstairs.

Two weekends ago I packed up my bags with my training crew for one final push of training at Whistler. One final suffer grinder fest of a weekend. For four days, we trained, ate, slept, moaned, groaned, stretched, and otherwise tried to discover new ways to work out the pain of sore, tired muscles. Between Friday morning and Monday afternoon, we logged more than 500 kilometres on our bikes, stomping on the pavement, and flailing through the water. We endured tough elements with daily relentless headwinds, white caps on the lake, smoky skies, torrential downpours and even some heat from the glaring sun. There were workouts that had me in tears, screaming in pain, cursing at Mother Nature, and otherwise questioning my sanity. I lived mostly on a diet of liquid sugar – gels, powders, and gummies. I craved salt and longed for real food. Some nights I slept like a baby, other nights I tossed and turned, unable to find comfort. With each passing morning I would wake up more weary, wobbly and hobbly than the last. It was a massively intense weekend – I couldn’t wait to taper. But like all the crazy weekend workouts our coach plans there is always a rhyme and a reason for it. Sometimes it’s not abundantly clear, sometimes you have to search for the method behind his madness, but on this weekend, in particular on the second day, it became quite obvious.
In the morning we rode down to Pemberton and out through the meadows to the turn around point. From there, we did a time trial back into town before breaking at the gas station, then time trialling back up into Whistler – a total of 130K. Once back at our hotel, we rested for about an hour, only able to consume nutrition we would have on race day, before heading out on a 21K run. As I stepped out of the front lobby, a torrential downpour started beating off the pavement. We were in for a wet, cold adventure.
For the first 5K or so, I hobbled along, not feeling well and blowing drops of cold water off my nose. It didn’t feel good, and I started to lose a bit of hope. Here I was on the run course, already doubting if I had it in me to complete the full race in just a couple short weeks. As we re-grouped before heading down the trail, I hoped to make it the full 21 without crawling back home. I sauntered off at my turtle pace behind the group, just doing what I could to keep moving. The kilometres were slowly ticking away, and with my head looking down most of the way, I really had no idea where we were going – I just sort of followed the feet in front of me. After about an hour I looked up for the first time and saw a wooden foot bridge crossing Green Lake. Instantly I recognized it from when I spectated at Ironman last year as one of the bridges on the run course. A smile spread wildly across my face. It finally dawned on me that I was on the race course and that in two weeks I would be back on that bridge competing at Ironman. It was in that moment that I recognized I was ready. I also recognized why coach dragged us all the way to Whistler for one last suffer fest – it was a chance to test ourselves and see firsthand the beast we would conquer. We would either find peace in knowing we were ready or run away screaming. I was grateful for the peace of mind.
If you had asked me the week before training camp if I was ready for the race, I would have shaken my head with an air of defeat. There were days when I would lie in bed crying in pain and wondering where I steered the ship wrong. My body felt done and I was almost positive my journey was not going to end the way I had hoped. Today is a much different story, and despite the challenge of that final training weekend, I’ll be forever grateful I endured it. Come race day, I’ll be looking for that wooden bridge and hoping it has another kick for me.