Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The gift of Ironman: a sort of race report.

Our story so far:

The heroine/protagonist has trained diligently. A winter spent on high volume running has resulted in a stress fracture,  but, her cycling speed is up, she’s no longer afraid of swim starts and she knows she can go easy on the run training with such a great aerobic base. Oh, and did she mention that she was 6th in her age group in a bike race in April and 4th in a du in June? (‘cause she’s happy to tell you yet again, and again) She is an endurance rock star!

The morning of the race looms. Mostly the iron husband and I have been anxious. I know that I’m ignoring the fact of the race hoping that arriving in Tempe, at the expo, will put some fire into my iron heart. I does, a bit. It’s great to see Molly, Ms Speedy Gonzalez again, to meet Mr Gonzalez  and to get some dog time with Max, Stanley, and Puck. Such good boys all of them.

I had 3 realistic goals this race.
1.       No backstroke, face in water, front crawl the whole way
2.       Honestly, finish in under  17 hours
3.       Eat the post-race fries and eat at Denny’s afterwards. This implies a GI tract that was un-ravaged by the race.

I won’t leave you in suspense. Goal one was achieved. The swim was a constant of beer bottles falling, and alternating views of green/yellow water and blue sky. Temple Town Lake was rumoured to be 61 degrees but I wasn’t at all cold like last time. I pick up a few minutes over 2009 and head to the change room – which is packed, no chair, no helpful dresser. I’m playing with the main pack this time and it feels good to have to sit on the grass and get ready for the ride.

Ironman is about dealing with boredom, managing nutrition and overcoming pain. As the day progresses the boredom declines, nutrition becomes more and more critical and pain becomes the dominant feature of your day.

Arizona is a flat course. In some ways a flat course can be seen as deceptively easy. Those of you who ride, pick your poison, hills with a rest on the way down or a flat course with wind and no real chance to give the legs a break. The swim finds an anxious mind that can go to scary places in the absence of stimulus but the boredom on the bike leads to a lessening of effort as the mind wanders. As well, no climbing gives you no natural need to get out of the saddle and the body tightens up and pains sets in.

So, I’m sure you can appreciate how happy I was to hand Doris Day over to a stranger and head off for that little marathon thing.

How am I feeling at this point? So kind of you to ask. Well, I’m pretty sure I smell, my new racing skirt (same size as 3 others from the same company) feels too small, and my shoes are unhappy with their arrangement of arch support.

As an aside, I had agonized about how to best manage my stress fracture. I had gone back to neutral shoes from the minimalist ones I had been wearing, only to find out my orthotics were too short for the new shoes. A gap between the tip of the orthotic ended at the mid-point of my toe pads and that was a recipe for disaster. Too late to get new inserts I took very good advice and cut the orthotics off to the arch support and put a thin Dr. Scholls over it. The problem with the Dr. however was that he was a slippery fellow and as the run went on more and more energy went to stabilizing my foot in my shoe.

New things on race day are always a good idea!

But, all things considered, I run most of the first of three laps and I assume I can continue at a decent pace.
But, here’s the kicker, I just don’t have that iron fire and I’m having a tough time, quite honestly, getting motivated. Lap 2 of 3 finds me bonking physically and I decide to concentrate of getting food in, absorbing all that water, sugar and salt, hoping to find myself re-energized. I know people have often found the middle of the marathon to be the toughest with a triumphant return at the end.

I eat, my stomach pops outs and I know I’ve taken in more than I can process. I skip a couple of aid stations, gut happiness returns. The fire doesn’t show up however and I’m in a pretty dark place when a stranger yells out “Susie”. The Arizona run course has several places where you are running one way on an upper trail around the lake with others on the lower. I look for Alex at all these places but I’m not looking any more when he sees me and the aforementioned stranger between trails acts as a go between calling out to me. I tell Alex that I can’t bear the heartbreak of worrying about making the midnight cut off and we both agree that we just don’t want to go long ever again. We part and I continue to the end of lap two.

Ahead, at the end of the lap is the left turn to the finishing chute and everyone else, seemingly, is finishing. I’m congratulated on my finish by spectators, I look finished after all, but another 14k waits for me out on what I know is a dark and lonely pilgrimage. I break down on a bench just after the turn off and an aid station volunteer hears me sobbing, “I don’t know if I care” over and over again and asks me if I need a hug. I do, of course, she sits down beside me and tells me that I can turn my chip in at any aid station and get a sag wagon back but she wants me to be sure of my choice. I tell her I had seen my husband and he told me to keep going so I will. I’ll decide again, I say, at the next aid station. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is my last Ironman but I’ll finish. I stop at special needs and get my food and my envelope that I put together for inspiration. In it is a picture of me at my first try-a-tri and my finisher’s picture from 2009. The change in my body is very apparent, you can’t picture the change in my mind but I can see it. I also have a picture of the finishers’ chute and a copy of a letter from a new friend thanking me for inspiration. I sit and sob some more.

I go forward working on changing my mindset from defeat to appreciation. I decide I’m ok with walking because that gives me a chance to look around, take in the atmosphere, and connect with people.

And what wonderful people there are around me. These aren’t the $10 000 bike people, these aren’t the egos that filled the expo, these are the midnighters giving it all just to make 17 hours. I meet one man who missed the cut-off and is trying again, a woman with Team in Training who has multiple ribbons attached to the back of her jersey representing those she has lost to blood cancers. I think often of Jerry F, and Jon Blais, the Blazeman. My feet hurt more than I think they have ever hurt but my stomach is happy and I calculate and recalculate that I can make midnight by walking. I hand the picture of the finish line off to someone struggling.

At last, and honestly after a seemingly short walk, I come to the finishers’ chute. A young, impossibly perky guy with a big M-Dot on his chest grasps my hands, congratulates me and reminds me that this is my moment and I should enjoy it. I walk into the chute and connect hand on hand with the spectators. I think, this is the last one, the last Ironman chute, this chute is the gift.

I am wrong, the gift is still waiting. I finish, I don’t even know my time but I have the French fries and a sprite and look at my watch. It’s 7 minutes to midnight. We can see the final athletes; we can experience a midnight Ironman finish line. We work our way over to the bleachers, climb up and see the impossibly perky young man signal to the announcer that there are 4 athletes still to come in. To come home to the finish. Time seems to stand still, we all stop breathing and they start coming in. It is incredible, the last woman is supported by the announcer -  assisted forward motion rule be damned. I love Ironman all over again because the impossibly perky young man was wrong. It wasn’t my moment, it was ours, athletes and spectators.

What does it all mean? Well, there is no one more alive than an Ironman finisher or spectator. Those of us in the back, I think, both received the gift of the crowd’s support and gave the gift back to them of an affirmation of life, of living.

Ironman 2.0 was so tough because I forgot that endurance sports are a team effort and I tried to go it alone. My ego wanted to go under 15 hours, physically I should have been able to but Ironman wouldn’t let me. Not because Ironman is cruel, but because the race calls us all to participate in order to educate us. The heartbreak of struggling to make midnight really was the gift of that struggle and the more I slowed down and connected with the other midnighters the more I received the gift of Ironman.

The clock strikes midnight, Ozzy sings Ironman, “Is he alive or dead”, and I, very much alive, throw my hand up in the air in a devil’s horn on the walk to the car.

And then we go to Denny’s.


Apollo Creed “Ain’t going to be a rematch”
Rocky “Don’t want one”

But then they did go on to make all those movies.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thanks for asking, trainings going great.

Having disappeared into the black hole of a new job, a weird virus that robbed me of my voice for a week, and left my eyes infected on and off for 2 weeks, as well as that little thing called Ironman training I see that I haven't posted for 3 months.

This time around I'm less exhausted, far less hungry (pout) and struggling a bit to find some inspiration motivation meaning, yes meaning, in it all.

I knew the second time wouldn't be anything like the first - nothing ever is. We're both faster in everything but somehow feeling less confident. We know that it's a very long day and a very tough race and we both want so much to take a couple hours off our time, that, well, the fear of failure at that goal can be overwhelming some days.

Well today a whole bunch of us runners/triathletes/endurance freaks got a kick in the pants that made the meaning in everything so very clear.

This is when the unspeakable sadness starts fogging my brain.

Race director and running cruise director extraordinaire Jerry Freisen died this morning, suddenly, from a heart attack on his morning run. Jerry touched so many lives that there are hundreds if not thousands of us wandering around stunned today telling all who will listen that we've lost a friend, and what a friend he was.

Jerry was the host to us on two Cruise to Run cruises, a race director at what I call the donut half-marathon (Tim Horton's as sponsor, a winter race with donuts waiting at the end - perfect), and a smiling face at a triathlon series that we participated in yearly.

The memory of Jerry that can to mind to me when I heard he had died was a run/walk I had done with him on our last cruise. I was a little pissy for a few reasons and not enjoying the run through the wilds of Antigua, Jerry, recently out of hip surgery, was thrilled to be able to move around without pain. He couldn't run again yet but that didn't dampen his joy at moving his body. I'm not sure how the conversation started but I remember very clearly his incredible comfort in his life and his role as a race director in changing people's lives for the best. He knew that he had an impact on the running community and was justifiably proud of it. I envied him that sense of a life well lived.

So really, I ask myself - who are you to struggle to find "meaning" in your journey to Ironman this year. I always  known that I am privileged to have the health, wealth, and support of friends to allow me to take my body and mind as far as I can in the water, on the road, and even that last painful bit on the run. I do remember my last Ironman as a celebration of what 2500 people can do with their bodies and their minds and, whatever time the clock shows when I cross the finish line, I know I will appreciated the opportunity to get out there.

It's time to quit whining and start appreciating. And also, to HTFU and make it hurt. It wouldn't be Ironman if it was easy.

Monday, August 8, 2011

How to get your bike down from the car roof rack.

 Simple edition.

Open passenger door, retrieve key from door pocket, open trunk, get milk carton and position at side of car. Climb on milk carton. Unlock rear tire rubber do-hicky, insert keys to front lock. Pull lock towards you and release bike. Lift bike down, insert front tire from trunk and roll along sidewalk to home.

Deluxe edition.

Follow steps above to the point of releasing the lock. When lock will not release, open back door and climb on back seat for better leverage position. When lock will still not release begin profanity. Pause profanity when you realize you could kick the lock open. Realize that involves climbing on top of the car.  Climb on top of car. Kick lock open. Realize you are *&^%$#@ because you are now on top of your car with your bike falling out of the rack. Attempt to lower bike to sidewalk. Realize it won't reach the side walk. Increase profanity. Hear "do you need a hand" from a tall blonde running god. Say "yes please". God takes bike and puts on sidewalk.

Coming soon. How to install the *&^%$# undercounter light bulbs. Deluxe edition only.


Permission to be extraordinary.

Hello, (tap tap tap), is this on? Anybody out there? Sorry, you may have all left by now, I'm a little late and all.

Been busy, training and stuff. It's been pretty awesome getting back into everything, getting the old iron fitness cleaned and pressed. And I've been thinking, of course, about the nature of extraordinary.

Now, if you didn't know me from this blog it might take me a couple of minutes to get around to the fact that I'm an Ironman. It's not that I'm looking for reasons to bring it up it's just that it's such a part of my life and who and what I am that it would be like not mentioning my husband, or my dog, or my love of cake. So, it comes to pass that Saturday I'm out on our raft at our cottage with our neighbours and their guests. We're all hanging out, 5 adults, 2 kids, and 2 dogs really enjoying the water and sun. The subject of Ironman comes up, naturally, as I chat with the guest about summer, our property, etc.

He's impressed and full of a dozen questions as we tread water, cooling off while I answer them. I try to be humble about the whole thing (hard for me 'cause I'm awesome) but I do imagine him expressing amazement to our friends and their (good natured) rolling of the eyes..."yeah, they're Ironman but did you check out the plywood on their deck, a little less Iron a little more deck building please", they would say.

So, back to the title of the piece. I didn't forget it. What was going on there on the raft and in the water was permission to be extraordinary. I'm proud of my accomplishment and I don't downplay it. I believe by acknowledging other people's interest and amazement I both honour their compliment and also put into their heads the fact that they too can be extraordinary.

I had already been extraordinary myself that day. We were doing a double race weekend with a sprint distance on Saturday and an Olympic on Sunday. Getting off the bike that morning I set out singing 99 bottles of beer on the run. I had gotten to about 35 bottles when I realized that I hadn't even thought about walking. I have never run the entire run course in a race. Granted, it had been a few years since I only had 5 k to run but, whatever the distance, I suddenly realized that I had to give myself permission to be extraordinary. I spend time giving others that gift so why didn't I deserve the same treatment?

I vowed to run the course, aid stations excepted, and I found in the end, it was much easier to do that then to play the mind games of when to run, when to walk, along with the physical agony of going from one mode to another. The idea that I could also run the 10k in the Olympic, the next day, started to form in my head and, well, you guessed it. I ran that 10k after a surprisingly tough 40 k on the bike. My stress fractured toe wasn't a big fan but if Jens Voight can tell his legs to shut up I can tell my toe to quit bitching as well. I also promised just 5 k running this week vs 65 last. And cake, I promised my toe cake. You do what you've got to do on your Iron journey.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Today’s food related blog posting

I had told a friend that the worst thing about the job related stress was that it had been interfering with my sleep and also, most horribly, was causing some stomach pain that interfered with my appetite. Ask me what I like most about heavy training and I’ll tell you that sleeping like a baby and eating like a teenage boy are pretty much the high points of the day.

Absent the stomach pains I’ve been finding that this time around I’m not so ravenous and that’s a good thing. I will confess that around 4:30am Monday morning I was coming down the stairs silently hoping there was yogurt in the house as I couldn’t sleep for the hunger. There was and I went back to sleep for a couple hours and dreamt about mac & cheese. So, naturally, after the bowl of fruit first thing I had the homemade mac & cheese that I decided had to be made. And you know what – IT WAS FREAKING THE BEST MAC & CHEESE EVER. I was stuffed for hours.

I’m trying to eat as my appetite demands but I still worry always about too much or too little. I left a falafel ball at lunch on Wednesday but then worried that half way through my swim that night I WOULD NEED THAT FALAFEL BALL – STAT.

I didn’t.

I am the supplement queen. Omega-3 is a big one for me, extra vitamin C when I’m training hard, vitamin D in the winter, a B complex capsule for stress, flax oil for breast health (so said the doctor) and now evening primrose as I approach THE CHANGE. I am in complete denial about it however, anything I’m experiencing is as a result of stress – damn it.

I find that I naturally gravitate towards lots of maligned “white” carbs, pasta and sourdough bread especially but that also seems to naturally fall off when the training is lighter. Rice is always brown, however, and unless it’s summer, breakfast is a cup of whole grains, wheat, rye and flax. I eat a metric ton of fruit yearly, always know I should up my vegetables and avoid pre-process grocery story food (food should not come in boxes) as much as I can. Without thinking about it I’m usually at 60% carbs, with fat and protein bringing up the difference about 20/20 on average. I did try deliberately bringing my carbs down to 50% after Ironman last but found I felt unwell the whole time. I didn’t lose any weight and I didn’t enjoy my meals.

Ultimately, enjoying one’s meals is the key. We are very lucky to live in a time and a place in which hunger is virtually unknown (if you have the cash) but what we’ve done with that surplus is to stuff our bodies with more than we need given how little we use them. I like food, everybody does. So, for me the only thing to do is work on the energy out equation. And that, my dear readers, is as much fun as the energy in. Good energy out this morning on a hill workout and now I’m thinking of what to have along with the lettuce growing in my secret garden. Nothing is coming from a box tonight. It’s all sacred..

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

It’s been awhile my faithful readers. Since my triumph at the St. George snud-fest (snow+mud=snud, brilliant, I know) I’ve been diligently working the plan for the planned triumph at Ironman Arizona. Triumph right now is being defined as feeling well enough to hit Denny’s afterwards.

My focus and energy has been sucked into the void called career far too much over the last few months. Not that I’ve been burning the midnight oil, quite the opposite. This blog is not about work but it is about positivity, teamwork, and integrity, all sadly, things lacking in my current work team. The mismatch between how I live my life and what I’ve learned to value and how the others I work with see their reality has become too great and I’m in the midst of moving to another, yet unknown, position in the same organization. That’s exciting but also scary, as all change is. What I have been overwhelmed with is the support and genuine admiration that I’ve felt from the co-workers that I’ve just picked up in the last 3 years after our independent company was sold to the bank.

I will say that I’m so much fitter than I was 2 years ago. I’m really keeping an eye on the fatigue factor. My new rule will be that if I’m not recovered after a day off then I drop optional workout(s) to get a second rest day. By the last cycle in September and October there aren’t actually optional days and the fact is that you do get tired from the training so I’ll play it by ear then. So far, however, Mondays off has left me super happy to get back on Tuesday.

Diet/nutrition is going to continue to be a focus. I dropped the WW after I dropped the 10 lbs because I was no longer logging my intake and I was starting to get the food crazies, the cravings for things that I wouldn’t even ordinarily want to eat; so, off the program and on to just eating smartly. However, I’ve adjusted to the new size and now, like a WW junkie I want more – or actually, less. I’m debating doing another 3 month stint. It did work very well with 50 miler training so I think that I could make it work at least until September.

I think that real effect of those kinds of diets is the novelty. With WW you become very aware of what you’re eating as you journal everything that passes your lips. It’s a great system that, if I’m going to journal my calories in and calories out, works very well and is simple to use.

On the other hand, I’ve been warned, quite rightly, that my goal now is not to lose weight, it’s to train for a faster Ironman and mentally and physically the two might not mesh so well. I have to refuel my body for the next work out and the next until that fabulous cold plunge into Tempe Town Lake starts it all again.


Lastly, Ironman Poutine (IM Mont Tremblant) has me in a bit of tizzy – 2013???

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Please ignore bullshit in previous post - time does matter.

Last Sunday, at approximately 2:30 in the afternoon, in the midst of light hail/snow I found myself wandering the Ancaster Community Centre with one shoe on, one shoe off and wearing only my bike shorts and jersey. And I also found myself with about a 15 minute PB on the race and 6th place in my age group, 20th overall in women. I was somewhat pleased. But I still couldn't get my shoe off, glued on with mud as it was. It was that kind of day.

I'm not sure if there is any other race like the Paris to Ancaster (long course) or St. George to Ancaster (short course). It's billed as a mountain bike race but most years it's really  made for cyclocross bikes and my sweet Specialized tri-cross Trinity and I are made for that race.

I first did it 4 years ago on an over sized heavy mountain bike during the early years when I was so determined to embrace this new lifestyle and so devastated by recurring anxiety and panic attacks. The race just ended up being one horrible long attack, I was terrified by the gravel trails, the endless stream of riders behind me, and the bike was so heavy to drag through the mud slides. I hated the day.

The next year I skipped and Alex raced without having to worry about me. Alex spend too many years and too many races worrying about my mental health and it's so wonderful to be over all that and know that he can depend on a very happy smiling wife running/riding across the finish line. Mostly.

Well, I am, if nothing else, ridiculously persevering so, armed with my new bike and new brain I towed the line a couple years ago on the same course and I loved it all so much that, yeah, I did want to marry it. Oh, and I finished 10th. That was pretty much unheard of in my athletic life to date.

Last year I graduated to the long 60k course and thought I'd stick with that one. I like playing with the big boys after all and, sitting her now, I'm still thinking I love to start out in one of three waves with a whole bunch of boys trying to out man each other. I liked slipping into the cracks wearing my helmet and tiara to chick the slow ones. Plus they have bagpipes to start the waves off and I loves me those bagpipes.

This year however, the consensus was that the 3 of us, crazy English friend Dave and husband and I, would do the 35 k route. Dave wanted to race the short course with the guys he competes with in other races and I have to admit that you do get all the fun and mud with 35 k and that might be the choice going forward. Alex, after a winter of too much work travel and too little training though the short course would be challenge enough this year as well. This year's weather was so nasty that 60 k would just have been a suffer-fest and another friend dropped down from the long course to the short to round out our group.

So, on to the race. We set off into a blinding snowstorm - no exaggeration. I found myself 5 k in at the 60k half way aid station, on the side, checking my fingers for frostbite. I also started to wish I had a mountain bike as the route was so wet that there were 2-3 inch deep furrows through the grass of the parkette hosting the station. I just decided then and there that it was a mountain bike race this year and Trinity and I would just do the best we could. Not much later, when the race went through a farmer's field my aborted 50 miler training came in handy as I jogged across the field faster than most mountain bikers were riding it. At that point I reconsidered my earlier call and decided the race was back on.

There are 2 official mud slides on the route, steep narrow valleys that require most riders to dismount and trudge through. They are truly the highlights of the whole day. This year, in addition to those two there were 2 or 3 other spots that were by and large too muddy to get much riding through. If the boys on mountain bikes were off their rides then I didn't worry too much about walking those spots. I was pretty sure my competition was also on foot.

There is a spot, about 2k or so long I think, when the race takes us to a double track trail with steep sides. The first year I just about exploded on that portion, there was too much gravel, and I was sure that I was going to slide down the side, clipped in, to my death. The last couple years found  me very comfortable in the right hand, less gravelly track but this year, this year, baby I was the one in the rough left hand side passing everyone as fast as I could. Once we got to the rail trail portion I was back on in passing mode - after a rest behind a couple big guys on mountain bikes I set off to say hi to every guy on a cross bike that I could catch up to. Lots of conversation there, if you know what I mean.

The last approach to the finish line is a portion of torn up road that I usually walk, not feeling very technically gifted. I always worry that I'm losing time at that portion but this year everyone was walking it as well. The mud was so thick that I was more slamming than rolling Trinity along the road and at some point something caught her back end and I continued to slam. A very hot tear hit my right wrist and I knew that I'd done something very unhealthy to myself.

Somehow I managed to get back on my bike for the ascent but was pretty handicapped by my wrist. At least that's my excuse for not being able to ride up the whole hill. Not that I've ever made it before. The weather kept sightseers at home it seems as the hills surrounding the last road are usually covered with people with cow bells and horn. Usually at that point in the race they look to me like vultures waiting for the inevitable but this year, I kinda missed them.

Back on my bike for the finish line and no one was waiting for me. At that point I realized I had a 15 minute PB and no one was there because I wasn't yet expected. That was a pretty nice feeling.

I freaking LOVE that race.

By the way, all the guys were in the top 10% of their age groups. Nice riding guys!