And the day is here…

To sit down and try to summarize all my thoughts, emotions, and retrospects from the past two years is a challenging task. For the first time in this journey, I’m finding myself at a loss for words. Part of the problem is that my emotions jump from one to the next in mere minutes – smiles to tears, laughter to screams – so it’s hard to say what I’m thinking. The butterflies come and go, so does the anxiety, fears, and even some excitement. I’m still not sure that I’ve quite grasped the magnitude of what I’m about to tackle tomorrow – swim 3.8K, bike 180, then run a marathon- it sounds like a bit like insanity, even to me. But what has been reiterated to me time and time again, is that the work is done. All I can do from here until race start is rest, shut off the brain and trust in the journey I’ve been on. Trust that everything I went through was a part of the bigger plan to get me here. The meningitis that delayed my first half ironman, the knee injury that threatened to end the dream, the popped out ribs, the colds, the heat stroke, bleeding toes, blisters, sun burns, and all the other cuts, scrapes, bruises and obstacles, were all a part of growing me into the person I needed to be to do this thing.
I still remember when I first told people I would do an Ironman. My dad looked at me with suspicion and said, “that is a really big race.” Some of my friends also gave me the same looks of suspicions, yet they smiled and nodded that I could do it. So, off I went – like an eager kid, hopping in with both feet and never looking back. Now here I am, less than 12 hours from hearing that start cannon – it’s a bit surreal.
Over the past few days, with all the buzzing of energy, sleepless nights, and unpredictable emotions, there has been one constant in my life – the support and it’s been that way since day one. Triathlon may be an individual sport, and on race day I have only myself to rely on to get me from point A to point B, but there is no denying that there are many people who have been by my side, believing, even when I doubted myself, that I could and would do this thing.
First and foremost, I would not have even stepped foot into this sport if it wasn’t for the three most important role models in my life, my mom, dad and big brother. My love for sport and competition, and relentless determination and stubbornness comes from one of three places and I have them to thank for telling me I could do whatever I set my heart out to do, even if it was Ironman. Through the journey they have been on the other end of the line to hear it all, to cheer me on, and to build me up when I was down. I also couldn’t forget the love of my sister-in-law who, despite not understanding anything about the sport, would often send me text messages full of Ironman related questions and words of encouragement. Her curiosity of my insanity oftentimes made me smile and I loved sharing my stories with her.

Then there have been my friends, who may never truly understand why I do what I do, but have been every step of the way. Whether it was coming to cheer me on at one of the world’s worst spectator sports, randomly volunteering at my races just to get closer to the action, talking to me about my training for hours on phone, or tracking me online – knowing you were there rooting for me every step of the way meant the world. I am especially grateful to those who made the journey to Whistler to sport a neon yellow ‘Team Couch’ support crew shirt and cheer me on for however many hours of the day this thing will take me.

I also can’t look back on these past two years and not think about my training partners, who have not only become friends, but my second family. I couldn’t possibly single any of them out because each of them has offered me something unique and priceless – from many words of wisdom, to shared tools, bike parts, tires and wheels, to shared homes, food, drinks, laughs, cries, dinners, hotel rooms, trips to Kona, chats in the hot tub, chats on the curb, and so much love. Their support over the past two years has been nothing short of incredible and inspiring. I will be thinking of each of them on race day and everything they taught me leading up to tomorrow. I could not have found a better group to go through this roller coaster with me.

Then there is coach. Before Maurice, I learned what I could from online videos, blogs and books, but his knowledge, expertise and ‘rain man’ way of looking at this sport was truly special and it’s because of him and his training program that I got to this day. Although he often said things I could only smile and nod at, he was able to look at my journey in a way I could never have comprehended. There were also times when I cursed his name. But in the end, he cared about us as athletes, and he went through every up and down with me, making damn sure I got here in one piece. I couldn’t possibly thank him enough for his patience when I chose to do keg stands instead of bike rides, for playing hockey or ball when I should have been resting, and for allowing me to ask all the dumb questions in the world. He has been one hell of a coach.
And speaking of coaches, I’ll never forget the woman who would teach me all the fundamentals I needed to know about swimming. Teresa was the one who helped get me from one end the pool to the other, and eventually into my very first open water swim. You never forget those moments or how they contributed to the overall success of my swimming.
In one last shout out, I couldn’t forget all the medical professionals I encountered along the road. From my massage therapist, to chiropractors, my athletic trainer, and hospital staff in Victoria – I saw some of them more than I had wanted, but they played an integral role in making sure I got here alive and in one piece.
As I turn off the light and try to shut off the buzz that invades my head, I will take one final thought with me, “It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself.”

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.

Here we go

10801619_10152569703662861_5271506552545061141_nDecember has begun which means training programs have been assigned and it’s time to get back to work. That extra weight that seemed to magically pop up on my hips overnight needs to go and my heart, lungs and muscles need to feel the burn again. Last week, I went through my fitness test, which gives coach my baseline for the start of the season, or as I like to call it, the test of how lazy I got over the last few months. But the real start to the season, the real start to the road to Ironman kicked off with a 6am swim on Monday morning.
The night before it was chilly and at only 5:00pm, it was already dark. The thought of getting into a pool at 6 in the morning sent shivers of goosebumps up my arms, or maybe it was goosebumps of anticipation. For the first time since August, I was packing my swim bag preparing for a group workout. My bathing suit has been hanging in lonely solitude on the back of my bathroom door handle for months and as I grabbed it to throw in my bag, I caught the wafting scent of chlorine. It was a scent that I’ve missed. For me, it was like taking your first sip of coffee in morning – rush and calmness at the same time that fire you into some sort of get up and go momentum. It was enough for me to forget about the cold and get out the door.
As soon as I stepped onto the pool deck, I remembered my first group swim from last year. I was so nervous and so afraid of being out of place that I thought I might forget how to swim and simply drown. That fear was intensified when my coach told me to tie my feet together with a thick rubber band. Looking back on it now, I laugh. As I brought myself back to the present moment on the deck, I suddenly started to have those some apprehensions. What if I got so out of shape I couldn’t swim 50 metres? What if I drowned with my feet tied together because I forgot how to swim? But as with all irrational thoughts they were soon dispelled as I hopped in the cool blue water and just kept swimming lap after lap like a fish with no rhyme, reason or direction. In fact, I think the extra weight in my ass totally helped negate any possibly of sinking. 
Getting back into the routine of training this week was magical. There really isn’t any other word for it. When you find your passion, this is what it feels like. It might sound hokey or a little too gung-ho, but it just is what it is. Embarking on one of the toughest roads I’ve set out to conquer leaves me full of anticipation, nerves, worry, fears, joy and excitement. There almost isn’t a word that won’t describe all the emotions and thoughts that go into preparing for an Ironman. Every time I tell someone about my training I always get the same raised eyebrow looks and the same “oh you’re crazy,” responses, which sometimes makes me second guess my ambitious goal. Am I really going to do this? I remember writing on my bucket list years ago that I was going to complete an Ironman and a marathon. At the time, I thought, yea right. I figured I was more likely to succeed at ticking off more practical goals, like riding a bull, swimming with sharks or flying a blimp. Honestly though, I’m here to tell you, having big dreams and seemingly outlandish ideas of doing what others deem impossible is a hell of a motivator and entirely possible.
Here’s to the first week of my road to that dream and all the challenges that come with it. I’m feeling pretty pumped.

 

Step one: get back on the horse

It’s been almost a month since being sidelined with Meningitis, and every ounce of me has been itching to feel the pounding pavement beneath my feet, or the wind whipping at my face on the bike, or the calming rush of gliding through water. The things that make me feel free and alive have been absent, and I desperately want them back, but it’s been a slow process. I’m getting better, but there is a fog that still plagues me. I’m struggling to regain my energy, headaches randomly creep in, and sleep is an impossible task – I just don’t feel like myself. So, this morning, with 3 hours of sleep, I forced myself to crawl out of bed and go do the one thing that washes away the aches and pains, the doubt, and the anxiety – swim.
I haven’t crawled out of bed much before 9am in the past few weeks and the darkness of the cool morning was a stark contrast to the warm, bright mornings I was used to seeing. It felt like the days of summer had disappeared over night, and I’m afraid that soon enough these early starts will greet me with snowy drifts and a freezing nose. Until then I’ll take the fall temperatures and semi-darkness.
When I arrived at the pool a familiar scent of chlorine instantly wafted through my nostrils and I inhaled it like a sweet drug. I looked around the old confines of the change room as the damp tiled floor soaked the bottoms of my dragging sweat pants – normally something that annoys me first thing in the morning, but today I was feeling too grateful for annoyances. It seemed like I’d been away for so long but that’s the punishment of time when you’re eagerly awaiting something special. As I walked out onto the pool deck I was acutely aware of the childlike grin on my face. The water was calm and only slightly rippled by the few early swimmers. This place has been a source of resolve for me a few times before. I don’t know what it is but something about swimming brings me to a place of peace.
As I slowly walked down the stairs into the cool water I felt like a frail old woman preparing for my morning water aerobics class. Normally I would drop myself off the elevated deck, but this morning I opted for a safer and slower entrance. The cool water instantly sent a shiver up my spine, and without much hesitation I submerged myself and allowed the water to envelope around me before resurfacing. The journey to the other end looked longer than I remember, and just like the first time I ever swam the long course pool, I felt nervous about making it all the way. But instead of thinking for too long, I pushed off the wall, glided under water like a slow yet graceful seal, and just started swimming. Whatever doubts I had about forgetting to swim or not being able to get to the other side quickly vanished. A goofy underwater smile spread across my face causing my goggles to shift and droplets of blue chemically water seeped in stinging my eyes. I really didn’t care, and like my old friend Dory, I just kept on swimming, feeling alive and miraculously cured of whatever ailed me. From one wall to the other, I would push off, relaxed and free. Thoughts about my missed race and what could have been this season crept into my busy mind and it only pushed me to keep on going, slow yet steady, and determined. At first the numbness and tingling in my legs felt strange and uncomfortable, but I eventually adjusted until it just began to feel normal. This is exactly what I needed, the free flow of water against my body and a friend to share the lane (thanks Mel) – if only we could high five and swim.
Even though next season is still – well, next season – this felt like the first step to what lies ahead. Perhaps, for now I should just enjoy the peacefulness of slow and steady because without a doubt there will come a time again soon enough when it will be back to the old suffer grinder fests that I’m used to enduring. Crazy as it sounds, I’m looking forward to it, all the while counting my blessings that I can still do what I love. In this journey I have no doubt there will be more curve balls hurled by way; what matters is how I throw them back.

Summer is here

The sun is blazing hot, the hot air has me sucking more wind than usual, and every workout has me desperately seeking ways to cool off. I have run with ice cubes down my shorts and sports bra, run through sprinklers on people’s lawns, guzzled litres of water, drenched my skin in sunscreen and otherwise wanted to die. For all those freezing training days where we wished for sun and warmth, well now we have it, and in brief moments of desperation we long for one little rain shower, just to cool our overheated bodies. It seems as though summer has finally arrived and as we enter the second week of July, I can’t believe that, for some, triathlon season is winding down. My training partners will race at Ironman Canada in less than two weeks, and they have already begun to taper. Last weekend was their last big push as we traveled to Whistler to train on the course for four days. There was no particularly good training reason for me to endure more than 500 kilometres of swimming, biking and running, especially considering my race is half the distance, yet I couldn’t resist the challenge.
The scenery at Whistler was absolutely stunning. I’ve only been there  in the winter and without the thick blanketing of snow, the landscape seemed to come alive. For four days, we trained, ate and slept. We rode up and down from Whistler to Pemberton so many times I could ride it blind. One morning, we did a time trail back up it, and my legs burned in a pain that could only be felt from riding your bicycle as hard as possible up a mountain. But I relished in the downhill moments and felt as free as a kid riding my bike without training wheels for the first time. Then we swam and it felt rejuvenating and
refreshing even though my open water skills had me looking like a drunk seal. On two of the afternoons we ran and it felt incredible to zig zag through the lush trails around the village, while the second run had me thinking I would hurl with almost every step. But that’s just how the past six months of this journey have been; pleasurably painful.
By the end of the four days, we had endured some tough training, but every now and again when I wasn’t exasperated I also enjoyed some pretty wicked scenery, even a close encounter with a bear. It was just another incredible adventure in my journey, and while my training partners may be almost done, I still have six weeks to go. There is still so much work ahead of me, including more hot summer days where I will run with ice in my shorts and long for one quick cool summery shower. Here’s to the final six weeks and to many more adventures.

20140716-081604-29764594.jpg

20140716-081605-29765403.jpg

20140716-081603-29763937.jpg

20140716-081604-29764957.jpg

20140716-081604-29764412.jpg