Redemption – Merritt Loop Round 2

Just like any other weekend morning, I was brewing away in my kitchen like a mad scientist, measuring and calculating calories and bottles of water, following a formula to ensure that I had enough to get me through a long ride. On this morning, I was fuelling up for the annual 200k Merritt Loop – a ride that just the previous year had kicked my ass. There really is no other way to describe the aftermath of what that ride did to me. I set out to as a Merritt Loop virgin to conquer the day and instead wound up being conquered, and sitting on the side of the road in delirium trying to figure out where I went wrong. The suffering began with about 50K still to go. My body decided that enough was enough, and for the rest of the journey, I wobbled to and fro, suffering with every stroke of the pedal. In the end, I was angry that I had failed, but in failing, I had learned. I learned the importance of calorie and hydration intake, I learned the key to pacing and above all, I learned how to suffer and survive – an extremely important learning lesson that you won’t find in any Ironman training handbook. Ever since that day, I have been seeking redemption, a chance to conquer that ride and to finish strong. I thought this was the year, so on this morning I had a prize in my eyes.
We hit the road just after 6am to give ourselves lots of time, and with a forecast of 35 degrees we wanted to minimize our time in the late afternoon heat. Just the same as last year, the ride from Kamloops to Logan Lake was calm and enjoyable. There were some gentle climbs to get us warmed up, and quick descents and rolling flats. As we arrived in Logan Lake, still bushy-tailed and bright-eyed, we laughed and swapped stories of the beautiful morning, and reminisced about the freezing cold we encountered at this exact location a couple months ago on our Tunkwa loop. This time we were happy to be warm and dry.
Once re-fuelled, we descended from Logan Lake along the windy stretch to Merritt. Sailing along the smooth curving pavement, we were treated to a gentle fresh morning breeze, the sights of deer and soaring birds, and an incredible tail wind that pushed me past speeds of 75 kilometres per hour. It was sheer joy – just the simple sound of my bike roaring against the pavement and the wind screaming past my ears.
As we stopped for the first time in a while just outside town I could feel the afternoon sun heating up, and as I looked behind us at the long stretch of road that had just been my playground, I realized we would be paying for the enjoyment later. As any veteran cyclist knows, a great tailwind out, means a great headwind home.

After refuelling in Merritt and taking a few minutes to stretch out our legs, we saddled back up for the journey home. With our bikes now facing east, I could instantly feel the hot, dry wind pushing back against us, almost as if challenging us to carry on. For almost 100 kilometres, we would trudge through 30 kilometre an hour headwinds, gusting to 45 in 35 degree desert heat. My neck began to tense, my shoulders began to ache, and the fun started to waver. Every stroke of the pedal felt like we were going up against a hurricane and the heat pouring down from the searing sun as we rode along the exposed asphalt made me feel as if I was melting. With about 30 kilometres to go, the pain within my aching muscles forced me to pull over more than I wanted, and it was in this moment I realized that on this day, redemption would not happen.
As we approached Cardiac Hill, the last, long steep climb of the day, I had vivid flashbacks to last year when Vince pushed me up this mountain. On this day, I longed for the push of his hand because there was a hint of possibility that I might either start going backwards or come to a standstill and then topple over to my death. As I started to pedal, I tried not to think, I tried not to look too far ahead, just pedal, one, two, three, one, two, three. The ache in my quads was excruciatingly painful. I still don’t know how I made it to the top, maybe I blacked out and an angel carried me, or maybe I just made it on pure insanity. Either way I made it, but it was not in the fashion I had hoped. As I pushed out the final rotations of the pedals, I practically fell off the bike and crumpled in a heap on the ground. If a picture was worth a thousand words, this one tells the whole story. There was no super hero pose or grandeur moment – just defeat.

We still had about 15 to 20 kilometres to go and at this moment we came to the stark realization that we had completely run out of water – there wasn’t even a drop. We were nomads in the desert and it was a dire situation. Even if I had water, I would not have wanted to drink it. I could no longer choke down anymore nutrition and even the thought of the water bottle touching my lips made me gag. Instead, I would opt to dry heave, my body revolting against the torture of Mother Nature beaming down upon us. For the remainder of the ride, I would mumble my words in a way that had me sounding like a drunken fool. Even when we had friends come out to meet us on the highway with ice cold water just outside town, I could barely choke it down before staggering back off on the road. I was desperate to finish and hell bent on not quitting. Damn that last 10k – it felt like the longest 10k of my life.
After almost nine hours in the saddle, and more than ten hours after setting out on the road, we finally arrived back home. I don’t even remember how I got off my bike – just walking in the door of my friend’s air conditioned house where we lay on the cold tiled kitchen floor moaning. I had a cold cranberry juice in one hand, a bottle of Advil in the other and a cold cloth pressed against my burning head. Redemption did not happen. I did not come out the victor- in fact I was a hot, pathetic mess.
The aftermath of this ride haunted me for nearly two days. Mother Nature was the victor and my demise came in the form of heat stroke that kept me shivering with a fever and riding out the waves of aches and pains. The adventure may not have ended how I wanted it to, but sometimes you just have to chalk it up as miles logged and another challenge finished. I guess I have a date with Cardiac Hill for next year because my redemption is now long overdue.

Me and my crew

Someone once asked me what kind of support system is required when training for an Ironman race. I paused for only a brief moment before recalling the date June 22, 2014. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a hot Sunday afternoon en route back from a 200 kilometre ride, and I was starting to feel unusually tired, unhappy, and heavy. I wanted to burst into tears, as every pang within my body started to scream. We still had 50 kilometres to go, but after failing in the calculation of my hydration and nutrition, this was going to be a long, bonky ride home. As I slowed down to almost a snail’s pace, two of my training partners rode up beside me for support. For the remainder of the ride they stayed with me, even tolerating my cursing, spitting and delirium. At one point Vince literally pushed me up Cardiac Hill – a mountain of an incline just outside town. It was one of toughest rides I’ve ever done, and really the only reason I lived to tell about it is because of those who were willing to literally push me up a mountain. They are the same people who greet me with smiles at 6am on the pool deck, who find time to laugh with me between gruelling sets, even though sometimes we’d rather cry, and the people who have seen me shoot snot out my nose, with multi-coloured gels caked onto my cheeks, and salty sweat dripping off my nose.
They are there for pool sets, where you just don’t think you can do one more, and they step up and pull you along, worker harder, so you don’t have to. They are there on long runs, looping back, because no one gets left behind. They don’t pass judgement when you have to run into the bushes every five minutes, or look at you differently when you put ice in your underwear, puke up your breakfast, pee in your shorts, or otherwise start taking off your clothes in the middle of anywhere, because they have all been there before. They have been there through your breakthroughs and your breakdowns, and it’s because of this that we share a genuine and unique bond.
Beyond the high fives, hugs and other moral support, my training partners also play an integral role in the execution of my training plan. Whether that’s by pushing me, challenging me, or otherwise, simply lending me a set of wheels, or a chocolate peanut butter ball when I’m feeling bonky or cranky. They also lend me expertise that you won’t find it any book or online blog. It’s a simple gesture but I’ve come to learn that the advice from a veteran Ironman athlete is simply priceless.
At the end of the day, my passion for this sport is often fuelled by the people I do it with day in and day out. I have often said that I don’t know if I could do what I do without their support. Sometimes knowing they are there, whether it’s beside you or kilometres ahead of you, enduring the same challenge, makes this journey that much easier.
Just this past weekend, after a long 94 kilometre ride, we had a 45 minute brick run that I was dreading. No part of my body wanted anything to do with it. But as I looked over at Katrina, who had just completed her longest ride ever, I figured the least I could do was run alongside her as she finished her milestone.

 Sometimes we do what do, not because we want to, but because someone else’s journey that day is more important than how we feel. So, with lead in our feet and pain in our legs, we trudged along together, grumbling and mumbling, yet all the while knowing we would make it out alive.
As the season ramps up, the gruelling workouts are just beginning but for every one that I accomplish I know there will be sweaty, gritty, salty hugs or high-fives waiting for me on the other side – and that is something worth getting up for.

 

Be patient, be humble, be grateful

For the past month, I have been sidelined from training with a knee injury and limited to water running, light spinning, and swimming, but road or trail running have been off the table. The one discipline I struggle with most, and at some points have loathed, and suddenly it was no longer an option. It must be a love-hate relationship, because every day I haven’t been able to run has been torture. My desire to run has become a flaming, burning passion that has been snuffed out.  Despite all of this I continued to put on my running shoes every single day. I have been limited to hobbling, limping or slowly walking in those shoes, but it was my way to remind myself to keep moving forward, and that one day those feet would be moving at a faster pace. The shoes are also insanely bright, and no matter my speed, they always make me feel fast, even if I was only hobbling or limping along. But this afternoon, as I slid them over my feet they appeared extra vibrant, extra bright, as if almost alive – for this afternoon, after clearance from my doctor, those shoes would be running again. The road to today has been a roller coaster – from a season-ending original diagnosis, to a couple second opinions, to a modified training schedule, to rehab, to limping, to hobbling to walking, then squatting, laughing again, and eventually go ahead to get back on the horse.
A few steps was all that was needed before I was grinning ear to ear. In this moment, my love-hate relationship with running maybe just maybe blossomed into true love. I was limited in my speed and intensity, but the feeling of my feet hitting the pavement in a pitter patter rhythm was a enough to spread a smile larger than a Disneyland happy face. I felt no pain, I felt free, happy, and alive. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this can probably speak for itself.

 As Doctor King once said, “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
In the grand scheme of things, the severity of my knee injury was minimal and its affect on my season could have been a lot more costly. Yet still, working through it has been a battle that has taught me humbleness, patience and new perspective. It’s a difficult thing to do when life is normally going at a million miles a minute – it makes it a lot harder to slam on the brakes without momentarily sliding out of control. Yet slowing down has given me more time to think and reflect. For one, I am humbly reminded of why I started this journey in the first place. It wasn’t to take a walk in the park – I wanted a challenge – full on with everything the sport of triathlon has to offer, from the good times to the bad. Training for Ironman is not supposed to be easy or comfortable. These last four weeks have truly cemented that my passion for this sport is unwavering and burns hotter than hell. I am also reminded of my commitment to raising money for Multiple Sclerosis, and dedicating this journey to those who can’t dream this dream that I chase. That may be the most humbling reminder of all – be grateful for what you can do. Even if that means water running with the grey haired ladies in the casual lane.
The next month of reintroducing my body to a full training schedule still comes with uncertainty, but, I plan to just keep moving forward. Despite the setbacks, the stress and frustrations, I don’t regret this bump in the road. It’s because of the injury that I will come out on top, more driven, more determined and stronger than before.

*Since the beginning of my 2015 training season, friends and family have generously donated more than $1,400 to the MS Society in honour of Rust2Iron 4 MS. If you would like to support my campaign, please consider donating here.

 

Swimming with the fishes in the deep blue sea

The ocean air breezed gently across my skin and I soaked in the radiance of the warm sun as Tracy and I walked along the rock wall of Alli’i Drive. On this morning, as I glanced out along the horizon, the ocean appeared incredibly vast and exceptionally grand. It was like a serene, turquoise mass of rippling water gently swaying in tune to the calm morning winds. I closed by eyes tightly as I embraced the salty air and the feeling of freedom and revitalization. I am a water baby, born to love the water, and a west coast girl, born to love the ocean. The crashing sound of waves, the rush of the tides moving over tiny pebbles, the bright colours of starfish, jellyfish and shells, the smells of changing tides, and the feeling of wet, soft sand between your toes, reminds me of a childhood of memories frolicking along shorelines.

As we passed the end of the rock wall we reached the top of the stairs to the small sandy beach, where we began to remove our shoes and put on our goggles and caps. Despite the warmth in the air, my teeth began to incessantly chatter, a sign of my body’s first reaction to nervousness. Although I feel like my soul is innately connected to the ocean, I prefer to feel that connection from a distance. For as deeply as I love it, I am also deeply afraid of it, particularly what lies beneath it – fish, octopi, crevasses, caves, sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, turtles, especially whales and anything that moves, sits still, barely lives or even floats.  In fact, when I first started triathlons I swore I would never do an open ocean water swim, unless I qualified for Kona.  Well I lied to myself, because here I was about to swim 1.2 miles into the open ocean where I would be an insignificant dot amongst all the things that moved and floated, including sharks, stingrays, turtles and whatever else lurked in the bay that morning.
As I hobbled down the rocky steps to the wet, sandy beach, I found a spot to sit where I could pull on my “legs.” Before I left, my coach gave me the bottom half of of his wetsuit, cut into two single legs. It would help keep my injured knee stable and afloat so I wouldn’t need to kick. They would also provide some slight flotation, which was reassuring at the time. Given there were no lane ropes or deck to grab onto, it was nice to know my legs were a little bit more floaty than usual. Although, it did briefly enter my mind that from the view below, I now slightly resembled a seal, which was prime bait for large, carnivorous sea creatures. Looking back on it now though, I should have been more concerned about walking around with the the not-so-fashionable look of cut off wet suit legs over my tri shorts, which as I recalled was how my coach told me not to wear them.

Looking out over the horizon of the Kailua-Kona bay I took one deep breath and plunged myself into a hesitant head-first dive forward and just started swimming.

For the first 150 metres, the water was amazingly clear, and we were surrounded by vibrant colours of darting tropical fish and a bursting array of coral. Every few metres I would I lose  sight of where I was going as I was more enthralled with the happenings beneath me. Here in the bay, I felt safe and relaxed. The water was deep enough for swimming, but shallow enough to prevent any large unwanted sea creatures from disrupting the peace. The waves gently rocked me back and forth as the tide pulled in, then out, but it didn’t bother me; I just kind of rolled with it.
As we moved past the 150 metre swim marker, the coral slowly disappeared into white sand and the depths grew deeper and deeper, and suddenly I felt much more vulnerable and my mind started to run wild. I kept telling myself to calm down, relax, be one with the water, but I couldn’t keep the word “shark” out of my head and my eyes darted at every shadow. With every fourth stroke I would pop my head up slightly to navigate my way through the waters and every time I would realize just how exposed we were out in the middle of the open ocean. The horizon was dotted with various boats, buoys, a titanic sized cruise ship and occasionally other swimmers. I couldn’t decide in that moment whether it was a breathtaking sight or simply terrifying. So, I shut out the dark fears of large looking sea creatures and tried to focus on the small, harmless fish. With just metres to go before hitting the marker, a large haunting looking shape swept over the ocean floor. It was a Manta Ray, calmly floating along. This creature wasn’t terrifying, in fact, it was quite peaceful.
As I continued on and bobbed my head up to sight I saw Tracy pull up; we had hit the 1.2 mile marker. The two of us floated there in the middle of the open ocean, just two insignificant dots, surrounded by a mysterious underwater world, and exchanging high-fives as we celebrated our triumph. We turned to head back, and a local swimmer popped up beside us. “Beautiful morning for swim,” she exclaimed in a calm almost namaste-like greeting. Tracy and I smiled at each other. For the first time, I was completely  relaxed and the dark thoughts of terror in the great, deep sea were gone. The journey back was much more comfortable, and my eyes no longer darted in all directions. I was calm, yet straddling the edge between fight or flight. I was guarded, yet open.
Once back on shore, we stumbled along the soft sand like drunken sailors touching land for the first time and laughed in spite of ourselves. I looked back over the horizon to see the marker off in the distance and smiled. I will forever be grateful for my first open ocean water swim, yet I don’t know if it’s something I am intent on repeating anytime too soon. I will always respect the ocean and what lies beneath it, and I don’t think I’ll truly ever lose that fear, but for now I am just happy to have survived and happy to have experienced the beauties of the great blue Pacific.

*A couple days later there was a shark attack on one of the nearby beaches and a Grey Whale sighting just off the marker in the bay. I counted my lucky stars for the peaceful adventure we experienced, and didn’t swim much further that the buoy line for the rest of the week.

And then something didn’t feel right

I can hear the constant humming and beeping of machines, the whir of people, the sound of rubber wheels slowly screeching around corners and escalated voices of people talking to the deaf, half-dead, or barely breathing. I can see shiny and pointy instruments and a buzz of happenings moving all around me. I stare off into the distance and pretend I am not here, but it doesn’t seem to work. I can feel my heart rate quickly elevate, and a twinge of anxiety slowly creeps up from my stomach to my throat. I hate it here, but so does everyone else. I close my eyes and listen to the voices, trying to remind myself that the reason I’m here isn’t so bad, that most likely the news my doctor just delivered might be the best news he delivers all day. But it doesn’t stop a warm tear from escaping down my cheek. A range of emotions flip flop inside my mind, going from sad to angry, bitter to mad, disappointed, then overwhelmed. I’ve been here before and it doesn’t feel any different the second time, no matter how you spin it. I’ve just been delivered the news that my MCL is torn and could most likely be a season ending injury. The last time someone told me I’m done for the season I had swelling on the brain, and could barely comprehend what was up or down; this time I have swelling on the knee, and my mind is as clear as day to run the gamut of emotions. The diagnosis was a crushing blow, yet at the same time, I was healthy, alive and mostly in one piece  – for that I had to be grateful, but perspective can be hard sometimes.
Just a few days earlier I was playing in one of my first ice hockey tournaments when I caught an edge and went down awkwardly into the boards. A sharp pain radiated in my knee and in that instant I knew something wasn’t right. As I hobbled to the bench, I could hear the “I told you so” voices started to chime in. What the hell was I doing playing hockey while training for Ironman? But that’s my life, never sitting still and running from one thing to the next  – spinning to hockey, hockey to soccer, running to work, work to running, swimming to laundry, laundry to friends, friends to sleeping, eating, working, and back again. I am happiest when I’m moving and sitting on the sidelines has never been my thing. But in this moment, with my leg strapped into a bionic looking brace, I felt like maybe I should have slowed down, just a bit, maybe just for a second.
When you eat, breathe and live something with a passion that burns hotter than fire, it’s hard to imagine how things would be if that was ever taken away, even for just a day. I’ve already started to tally how many workout days I’ve missed – in between rest days, it’s only one so far. Training for Ironman has become a tremendously important, life changing part of who I am. The thought of not being able to train, cuts like a knife and without it, I am lost. But it’s also more of a reason to start thinking about how I’m going to get through this, and how I’m going to hobble my way back. The diagnosis from the emerg doctor sounded season ending at the time, but after a good conversation with my coach, some wise words from good friends and a second opinion, I might not be doomed, just yet. The trouble with this injury is that without an MRI, it’s hard to make an exact diagnosis, and difficult to say for certain how long it will take to heal and get back to normal. I can almost hear the clock tick tocking away. Every day, every week away from training will be detrimental and emotionally challenging.
The road to Ironman has had a few bumps for me already and this is just another one. After being sidelined with Meningitis last year and missing my race I felt like it was the fuel I needed to come back even more relentless than before. And I’m looking at this the same way – a true competitor always fights to find a way to do what everyone else thinks they can’t. I don’t know what the future has in store for me, I can’t say for certain that this journey is over, but what I can say is that I’m willing to fight, and I’m not ready to quit – that’s never been an option. I’m just in for a longer, tougher road that will require my big girl panties and learning to be patient and accepting of whatever happens from here on out.