Saturday, 9 August 2014

#DFQ..Back to the Future Ironman

In my previous installment, I noted that I was to soon to attempt Ironman Boulder and would not quit, until I was done. Well stick a fork in me, I'm done.

Having raced the full iron distance before, I knew what to expect, how to train and about how long it would take. This time, however, a couple of elements stood against my usual 14-hour(ish) finish:
  • I trained for hills on the bike, but not adequately for distance beyond 120km
  • I did not have enough miles in my legs, and struggled through 21km training runs
  • I was about 15 pounds heavier than I should be
  • The IMB course was at altitude 5,430 feet (1,655 m) compared to home
    1,893 ft (577 m)
  • I was a little burned out from five straight years of Ironman races. Three successful, and two DNFs.
This is starting already to sound like an apology or an excuse. But believe me, it is not. My experiences at Ironman Boulder during the race, as well as pre and post, are now etched in my mind as some of the most memorable and triumphant experiences I have ever had in my triathlon career. 

While this blog entry will cover the race portion, I hope to write quite a lot about my experiences in later blogs. These will include the wonderful experiences with friend and family in Boulder, and the not-so-wonderful travel experiences. 

Normally I put together race results as with this 2010 Ironman Canada race report; I would write how I prepared, what went right, what went wrong, how I did and what I blame or thank.

Here's the thing. As I noted,  I'm a little burnt out. That means that not only was I sick and tired of training long, but I am equally bored of writing about the fine points of race prep and completion. I mean, seriously, how many more times do you want to hear what I ate, and how I pooped?


And don't for a minute think that I am anyway ashamed of being one of the last finishers. Long before the race started, I decided that I would take all the time I needed and challenge my resolve, more than my body. After all, I had challenged my body many times before this time it was time to test my mind.

So. I should note how I did, just for reference. 16:44:23. That's 15 minutes or so before Mike Reilly turns off the lights and goes home. Mike was there, by the way, and he did remind me that I AM AN IRONMAN, the second time he has personally done so.

The swim took place at the Boulder Resevoir. This is an  unremarkable body of water, that I water-skied on when I was 14 years old. Well, to say water-skied is a bit of a stretch. A boat pulled me and I was introduced to enemas. This is, ironically, when I first gained an appreciation for wetsuits.

The Reservoir, also was where T1 and the bike drop off was on the Saturday before the Sunday, August 3rd Race. There was a lot of commotion on Social Media about either the Boulder Reservoir administration or Ironman Management asking for $20 for entry into the area to do a practice swim. Both parties denied it was them, but it was still charged.

Similarly, a $20 fee for every person without an Ironman wrist band was expected on Saturday, bike drop day. So, in theory, a family driving their athlete would each have to pay $20. I had my First Wife drive me and, at the gate, in bumper to bumper traffic, I explained that I don't drive manual transmission. The money-collecting clerk shrugged and let us through. This wasn't so much of a lie, as First Wife often argues that I do not drive standard as well as her.

All this stress was for naught,  though.
Race morning at The Rez. was a picturesque delight, without a spec of wind, beautiful sunrise and the best swim I've ever had. I should note that the morning started out at 3 a.m. with a short walk from the-best-race-hotel-location-that-was-only-two-blocks--from-the-athlete's-village to Boulder High School and waiting school buses that took First Wife and me to the Rez. This was very well organized, although, special needs bag drop off was inexplicably an additional two blocks from where the buses were, but I digress.

The swim was a rolling start, which means athletes placed themselves in a line according to their assumed speed. The professionals, of course, went first then the under one hour swimmers and so on. I placed myself in the conservative 1 hour 30 to 40 minutes slot. Although I absolutely loved starting simultaneously with 3,000 other swimmers, as I have at Ironman Canada (Penticton), there are some merits to the rolling start. There is also one huge disadvantage if you are going to be out all day and night: you have 17 hours to race. Everything shuts down at midnight. Rolling starts begin before 7 a.m. That means that you could theoretically cross the finish line before midnight, but still have been racing for more than 17 hours and thus get a DNF. This was my fear as I pushed the 17 hour window, and my resolve.

The swim itself was fantastic. Although I did not get a chance to have a warm-up (inexplicably again, the warm-up was a long walk from the start area - at the finish area). This didn't leave me with enough time. I also really needed to pee, and could not/did not before or during the swim. Many however did, and as we walked down towards the swim start, the boat launch ramp was wet with liquid filtered through kidneys and neoprene.

Despite having to pee, I swam well. I was comfortable, although at one point a vague pain in my chest gave me lots to think about, such as life insurance and eternity, both of which I have plenty. I slowed down a little, for this unexpected episode and then sped up again. I did hear some stories of panic and anxiety attacks where racers took off their goggles and wetsuits while in the water. Of note, as well, for two weeks prior to the swim, it was communicated that the water would be too hot for a wetsuit-legal swim.

A few rain storms during race week cooled it down so all wore their suits. It was still warm, however, and I found myself on several occasions swimming deep so that water would rush into the space between my neck and back to cool me off a little.

All Finisherpix to be updated
My swim went so well, that I found myself pulling ahead of the group I seeded myself with and catching a group ahead of me. I realized, after checking my swim finish time, that this wasn't the faster group, but the slower swimmers of the faster group. Still. I caught up to them, drafted, got faster and enjoyed the swim. I got out of the water in pretty good shape and ready for the challenge of the bike.

I took my time in transition. Dried my toes, lubed my nether regions with the incredible Hammer Seat Saver and put on arm coolers. I had cooling calf sleeves on under the wet suit. I was acutely aware of the coming heat and extant elevation. I was not going to let the elements beat me. Besides, I had raced in 33 C temps at Penticton, and I knew the importance of cooling was equal to that of hydration and nutrition. As a dedicated Sufferlandrian, I wanted to wear my national bike jersey, but the temperature was just too hot! So I stayed with the Regina Multisport Club tri top.

So on my bike I went and started off. The ride, I hate to say was uneventful. It was beautiful. The roads were pristine. The traffic control, thanks to the law enforcement personnel and volunteers was great. I dropped my chain once and, to my surprise, had to get off the bike to fix it, I can usually get it re-engaged while pedaling. But I could not coast. And this is where the issue begins.

The course did not have the monster hills of Penticton, or CdA or St. George. In fact, other than the "three bitches" at mile 100 (who were actually quite lovely) I don't remember any steep hills at all.

Still there was considerable elevation change. The whole course seemed to be full of false flats! I was aware that this may be the case, so I didn't waste time checking my brakes, as I have in the past. It just meant that the ride was a constant uphill. Unlike wind, which you can perceive, false flats are insidious. They sap your strength, rob your speed and make coasting impossible. I found my average speed plummeting as the course progressed, and the effects of the 90 F + temps (102 F on the black tarmac) and the elevation took hold on my tired, overweight body.

I did not bonk. I did not have heat stroke, although many did. There were bodies strewn under trees and in shady corners throughout the course. I kept to my hydration/cooling and nutrition plan. This included  my secret stash of Hammer Nutrition gels, a 3-hour bottle of Perpetuem and Endurolytes. Equally important, I poured  a bottle of water over my head, on arms and legs every time I replenished, and sometimes in between.  I got tired, and slow and a little dejected, but that was a result of lack of long-distance training, not on-course action. And, unlike many I saw and read about later, I did not have any GI problems - other than losing the desire to eat during the run.

I must put a plug in for coconut water (500mg Potassium) and dill pickle and juice. These were in my special needs bag (both for the bike and run) and I have proof they made a difference. The quadricep cramp that ended my race at IMCdA last year. showed up at about KM 80. Every time I stood up, or attempted a steeper section, I could feel that familiar pull just above my left knee.

So I took it easy until I got to special needs. Out of my bag I pulled the magic pickle and poured the coconut water into my bottle. The volunteer at special needs said he had seen everything. He had never seen a lycra clad, sweaty, fatman on a bike sucking back brine and chewing on an 8-inch polskie ogorki!

This stuff was magic. The knee pull and the cramp were gone! Sadly, so was much of my strength, tapped by the sun, elevation and the constant climbing. It didn't help that the second half of the ride was all uphill, with very little chance to recuperate. All the way to Boulder, and even the last road to T2, on Arapahoe Ave., the route was all uphill, or at least seemed like it was!

I finished in what was my slowest ever bike time. Blame? Naw...I didn't train long rides enough. Even my rides through the Rockies with harder climbs maxed out at 110 kms. 

As I dismounted, and faced what seemed like a 1km run to transition, I knew I was in trouble. I didn't run. Most people didn't. I did, however, keep my bike shoes on. Some didn't and blistered from the hot, black track that the transition bags were on. I blistered too, both feet.
But I suspect this was from the heat coming up through the pedal on the bike. These blisters and both my middle toes (now with black toenails) caused me no end of grief during the last part of the race. But I never stopped for them, other than stopping to put some Glide lubricant on the side of my foot that seemed to be developing a "hotspot" early in the run.

Now to call this a run, would be like calling a tortoise a rabbit. Getting off the bike, I was tired. My feet hurt. My hips were seizing, my back was sore and, well, I was a little bored. I ran a little, and very quickly noticed my heart rate raced to 165 bpm. (it should have been about 150 for that pace). So I settled in for a long walk. I had walked 21.1k at IMCdA, so how much more difficult would double that be?

The run course was dubbed the "Flux Capacitor. In reality, the end effect was that I felt like I had to time travel back to the future in order to finish. The course was on Boulder Creek, which, thankfully was shady and made the afternoon hot temperatures bearable.

What I did have trouble with was the path was made of concrete. Like my marathon in Fargo ND, some years ago, the hard surface pounded on my legs, my hips and my ankles and just beat me up. Keep in mind that I was walking. I can't imagine what this was doing to the runners. It is interesting to note that post-race commentary described this as the slowest IM run to date, even amongst the professionals.

I was also challenged with the shape of the course. While trying to figure out mileage and convert it to kms, that my Garmin was showing, I had no idea how close or far the 3 turnarounds were. And there were two laps. Several times I got confused that I was going the wrong way. Even if I could run, I would have had trouble pacing myself, as the circuitous and convoluted route gave very little opportunity to gauge how far to go before the turnaround.

But again. This is my problem,. I personally, did not like the run course, but personally, I was also undertrained for a 42.2km run. But I walked. And I walked. And I walked. When I saw First Wife, at about the half way mark, I was ready to quit. That was enough. I didn't want to go on. I could not eat anything, not because I could not stomach it, my guts were fine; my nutrition plan went very well. I just could not deal with chips or pretzels or gels or Bonk Bars...I had some chicken broth and some flat cola.

But I was done. #Don't Fucking Quit, notwithstanding, the course had beaten me. I looked at my pace and how much time I had left: a little more that three and a half hours. I didn't think I could make it. Besides, because of the morning, rolling swim start, I didn't have till midnight, I had until 11:45? 11: 30? I didn't know!

I told this to First Wife and she reassured me that I could do what I want. Then told me, she'll meet me at the finish line, which, after two decades plus of marriage means, "you'd better finish!" She had successfully done this to me at IMC ending her finish line volunteer race catcher duties at 14:15 (I finished just past 14 hours) and a Stony Plain half, where she threatened to leave after six hours. I finished just under six hours.

So now, it was the finish line...how the hell would I get to the finish line, without finishing;. I remember my embarrassment at IMCdA, where I abandoned at 21.1km and had to skulk past the finish line to surrender my timing chip.

#DFQ. Then it sunk in. Don't Fucking Quit. Just keep going! Who cares how long it takes. I've come this far, and I know friends and family are watching. I'm tired of quitting. Something strange happened at this point. I went from trying to figure out how to quit, how to cut the course short, how to fake an injury, to getting a thirst for the race!
My pace hastened, so much so, that I started passing walkers and some staggering runners. I walked through every nutrition stop, but only took coke (and a few of my stashed Hammer gels). I was a man possessed. No way was I going to quit. No way did I travel this far not just in the race, but from home, to call it a day.

I took my inspiration from some of the athletes I had seen, those running with prosthetics, others who were so cramped up that they looked like withered trees, but still,  they continued. I took my inspiration from my friends back home, many of whom had overcome far greater challenges. I thought of my Imaginary Friends, many of whom had beaten great challenges themselves, and were probably tracking me online.

So I walked. Then I ran. Then I shuffled. I just did not stop. And then. Unexpectedly (as I didn't know where the bloody turnarounds would be) I saw the exit for the finish. And then I saw First Wife. She lied. she was not yet at the finish line. She and a volunteer told me that I'd better run through the finish chute. So I started my kick.

I've got a pretty good kick, if I say so myself. I sped up to a 4 minute/km pace. Then my quad cramp returned. Who cares! I kept going. Then I heard my name and I saw Mike Reilly. I'm already an Ironman, I thought. But it was good to be reminded.

Everything went into slow motion! I was having fun. More fun than I've had the three times I've successfully done this before. I slapped some hands, I smiled.

I raised my arms.

And then. Almost 21 hours since I had woken up that day, I was done. I had a medal. I had finished. I was a finisher. All the grief and pain and doubt was washed away.

Then I found First Wife. At the finish line, as she had said. Her smile was better than any medal.

I posed for the finisher's shot, had some of the worst pizza I've ever tasted and some of the most delicious chocolate milk!

I was done with 15 minutes to spare. We cheered on the last finishers, First Wife looking for a few that she had seen hobbling past after me, including two sisters. They all finished. Then midnight came, and surprisingly, it was all done. Lights went off and the race went dark. Ironman used to allow for 15 minutes after midnight, I thought for DNF finishers. They had come so far! But no. It was done.

Then the aching started. Feet and hips. First Wife had already collected my bike and bags and dropped them off at the hotel. I thanked some cops and some volunteers and we hobbled home. More surprised than happy. But ecstatic that I had seen some very dark places in my head and I shut out the angry, lazy conspiring voices.

I did not quit. And I was still standing.

I remember a sign I saw on the course. "What do you call the last person to finish an Ironman? -- An Ironman!"





Monday, 28 July 2014

#DFQ

Well.

This is it. In less than a week, I'll be dancing with the Iron Fates again. On Sunday, August 3rd, 2014, Racer 2410 will be starting a very long day in the Boulder Reservoir at Ironman Boulder.

Yesterday I spent a solitary evening #PMS (packing my shit). Today I did my second #TOTM (Test Of The Mini). Yes, one Cervélo P3C and all my stuff, fits easily in the Mini Cooper for the 14-hour drive down to Boulder.

I'm looking forward to the trip and to my return to Boulder after so many decades. I will be seeing a friend and a whole gaggle of cousins and family, many of whom I have not met before!

As always, I'm apprehensive about the long drive, but it will be fine. Just one of the hurdles that comes with not wanting to fly with #AMS (All My Shit). The race too, and all the race week prep, including the demands of the course is stressing me a little. This race, unlike ones with which I'm most comfortable, has a swim/bike start that is no where near the finish. It is a point-to-point, as it were. Not really a big deal once race starts, but it just means that much more organization to get bike and gear to the drop off places the day before. This is like Ironman St. George, which floods back into my memory. It is also like the Great White North Half, at which I had my best ever Half Ironman time (just under 6 hours.) The race report for that is here, written when I was more prolific.

My mind is elsewhere, however. It is somewhere between race focus and blur. My training, which I will not go into, is not what it should be. Having said that. Although my swim volume is down, my swim has never been faster or more confident.

Spoke 'n Hot Time Trial. Photo Credit: Paul Cutting Photography.


My biking too, is way under volume in terms of my planned long rides of 180km or more. But according to Strava, I've done 2,600 kms since January. That includes long and hilly rides in Penticton, BC and Golden Triangle. It also include stupid-hard Sufferfest training; including the 8-day Tour of Sufferlandria and the Two Days of Suffering National Day. #IWBMATTKYT.

Not enough volume, yes. But more confident on the bike but every before; and strong, thanks to the every Monday push from the women of Group 8 for whom I am a volunteer ride leader at the Spoke n' Hot women's cycling group. 

Now the run. #NBE (Nothing But Excuses). Weather, responsibilities, injuries, apathy, laziness, distraction, too much bike focus, you name it. Although I did have an enjoyable half-marathon experience in Phoenix in January! The run will be what it will be. I will run. I will walk. I will waddle. I will chafe. I will thirst and will not be quenched. I will hate my life. Then, I will love that I have been blessed with the resources and love from family and friends to be able to even attempt this.

This year, I only did one Race. See Dick Tri. This was the most fun I've had in a long time and I spent the whole race completely anaerobic after the fastest 300 Yard pool swim I've ever had.
Photo Credit: Paul Cutting Photography.

This brings me to Keep Moving FWD. This was my mantra for all my previous Ironman races. It was suggested by one of my imaginary friends who continues to impress me with how she continues to evolve and blossom.

No. I will not #KMFwd. This race will take a resolve unlike anything I've mounted before. It will take some serious Kung Fu...or Zen or juju.

This is where the delicious coincidence happens.

When I was studying eternity at Liberal Arts College, I had the privilege of having a single class with the then Beat Poet-cum Budhist Allen Ginsberg. He almost convinced me to attend Naropa University. This (new at the time) school offered an MFA in poetics with a contemplative, meditative focus. I didn't go. Instead, I found my relative fame and fortune in the business world. Missed opportunity, mayhaps. But there are no wrong steps, just steps away from inertia.

What does this have to do with Ironman, other than I have a heretofore unrevealed meditative, creative side? It turns out that the campus is not only in Boulder, but two blocks from where I'll be staying on race week.

This is a tangent in this blog, like a path not taken that, also, made all the difference.

So.

I leave shortly for the road trip. I have a new mantra, which in part is why I have all the hashtags.

This will be a race of no options. I will keep moving forward. But I will be motivated by #DFQ. I will not #DNF!

#DFQ? Don't Fucking Quit.

Here we go Boulder! I'm coming in hot!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Imaginary Friends

When I was wee, I didn't have any imaginary friends. I don't recall if I was not allowed to, or if there were just none available. Before I got to school, I mostly kept company with myself and found myself in some great adventures; some of these adventures took me to places that even now, as an adult, I have not had the resources or the guile to revisit.

The one constant in these adventures is that I was always outdoors. You see, although family trips and vacations took me to interesting places, many of which did actually have an outdoors, my own day-to-day existence was one of being indoors, looking out.

I was always looking through a window or out of the bus, (we did not own a car), or even out an airplane window.  Outside were the great adventures that filled my young mind. In hindsight, though, they were more solo quests than fellowships (think Frodo on his own, without Sam...or Gollum).

I remember many of them. Some involved me singing or acting or racing through a storm. None involved other people.

As I entered school, I made some friends. Two of them come to mind. One I still write to, and another who, is but a link away...but a link never made. Again, contact with these friends was limited as, for my family, the outdoors was contact with anything and everything that was not within the family household.

As I got older, I made more and more friends and actually got to spend time with them. These were all of the real variety, although I did make one imaginary friend with whom I still correspond, a pen pal, a term I have often found more fun to say in German than in English: Brieffreund.

This is a triathlon blog right?

At this point in time, you may be thinking that you have stumbled across some errant post from FriendsReunited, or a quaint remembrance of nostalgic things past. It is neither.

But I'm not sure what it is yet.

Today, I read something that made me think of imaginary friends. Those who know me, or have read me before, hopefully, know that I have an imagination that is not bound by walls or bytes. My world is populated by imaginary people so numerous, that I sometimes have trouble keeping up to them. Ironically, all of these imaginary people are very much extant. They live and breathe and play and work and ride and race and eat and write. Oh yes, they write!

These imaginary people live, at least in my world, through the little photons, or absences thereof, on my computer and my smart phone screens.

What I read today was from one of these imaginary friends. Dame Ashley wrote about how to define a friend, and it got me thinking.

Dame? Yes. Ashley, like many of my imaginary (but very real people) friends is a citizen of Sufferlandria. I've written about The Sufferfest before.   Dame Ashley, like a small number of my friends, has accomplished a great act of endurance and strength that I can only aspire to...Sufferlandrian Knighthood. One day I will. Maybe sooner than I let on.

Sufferlandria It is an imaginary realm that is made up of very real people and extraordinary cycling training. It is possibly one of the best things that has ever happened to me, with respect to training. Being a Sufferlandrian has also helped me make friends with similar interests in not only cycling and training, but also in world view and with the understanding that, at least in my world view, an answer may just lead to another question.

I have also made many other imaginary friends. Some I found and  continue to find on Facebook and Twitter and some of the other social networks, some related to training, some too unsavory to publicly admit to.

Some of my imaginary friends I have had the distinct privilege of meeting. Some at races, some through travel and others, and they know who they,  have burrowed deeply into my brain and have made a cozy home there and are always on my mind.

Many of these imaginary friends also engage in training of one sort or another. Some are amazing cyclists that ride in legendary places that were part of my imaginary world. Others defy any kind of definition and conquer each and every challenge as if humanity depended on it. Still others don't blog or publicly write, but their words and occasional comments nourish my soul and motivate me to greet every day with a smile in one hand and a question in another (and to always, always embrace mixed metaphors and malapropisms.)

The most interesting thing about these imaginary friends, is that some of them are individuals that I knew as real people first. Some are even family! It is as if, through some kind of spooky quantum science they have teleported into another dimension. But unlike Rose forever bound on the other side of the wall, these friends come in and out of my day-to-day life. It is as if, somehow, my imaginary
world and my real life have merged. Who knows? Who cares! There is no doctor who can explain this.

It is these imaginary friends that this blog is dedicated to. They have continued to surprise me, to inspire me, to make me constantly question myself and my surroundings. They have similarly taught me to question with a critical eye that is not caustic and bitter, but rather filled with inquiry and wonder.

In August, I will be racing Ironman Boulder. This race comes after three successful Ironman Canada (Penticton) races, a near drowning and DNF at Ironman St. George and a cramped-out ride and DNF at Ironman Coeur d'Alene. I have not written significantly, if at all about these two events. I did write a little.

Maybe I was just burnt out about writing about training. Maybe I was just burnt out. What I do know, is that my imaginary friends, have rekindled an interest. Not in blogging specifically, but about training. About experiencing that vague feeling on the knife edge between agony and exhilaration that comes, not only with physical activity, but also in all parts of a life lived to the fullest.

I'll end it here, as I sense a group hug coming. Thanks to my imaginary friends. Both virtual and real.

You are all essential.




Monday, 3 February 2014

Running for nothing.

So.

I've been putting this thing off. The writing of this blog, but also the telling of this story. So I may as well just get it over with, as it turned out to be one of the best experiences I've had in a long time.

Last summer, on the urging of a distant friend, one whom I haven't seen in years, but speak to almost daily, I signed up for a the Arizona Rock n Roll half marathon. It was a no brainer: relatively easy travel - two easy flights, and a place to stay. Besides that, I needed an excuse to kick start my run training as I slowly build up my distance in prep for Ironman Boulder on August 3, 2014

Of course perfect plans being what they were, training didn't quite pan out and I found myself running in circles, as noted in my previous blog of the same name. 

So I got onto a jet plane, flew through Calgary, Alberta where I met up with three guys that would be my companions for race weekend. We boarded the jet and flew down to a strange and foreign place where Seguaro cacti and palm trees grow freely and oranges fall off the trees on public sidewalks. The desert like landscape was indeed strange and foreign, but it was also oddly familiar. Like Penticton, BC or Kos, Greece; two places where I had spent
many summers. These places were both arid and welcoming and offering a multitude of adventures for someone like me, who prefers introspection over extroverted excursions.

But it was also January. With temps hovering in the teens (Celsius). This itself was a welcome shock to my anti-freeze filled system.

My companion and his friends were quite proud of this place. And for good reason. Life here almost seemed effortless. From tasty dining that was fast and flavourful, to quaffing some of the best and biggest beers I've had in many years. 

This 22 ounces of  Modelo Especial at the local Aunt Chilada's was but one example. There were many tasty experiences, including fish tacos at a place featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Los Taquitos and Pizzaria Bianco, which had the freshest and best pizza I've had in many years; and also sported a collection of feral cats, although, the two are not related.

There was also great coffee at Dutch Bros, which became a regular routine. There were also other fine dining and drinking opportunities. This is starting to sound a lot like a vacation, isn't it? From the backseat it was truly a great ride and a chance to unwind, to chill out in the outdoor pool and to see a part of the world I've not yet experienced.

But that was Friday and Saturday. Sunday included a little run I had to do. I wasn't overly stressed. I knew I could get through it, I had done the distance. The decision to make was, how was I going to run it. Was I going to run, or was I going to race?

After a number of 22 ounce beers and a little too much exceptional Mexican food, I realized that this was going to be a Sunday run, with 16,000 friends. Once that decision was made, I relaxed and thought more about the experience and less about time.

As usual, I prepped the night before.And as is usual for me, I had a crappy sleep, then stress-filled pre race time looking for somewhere to pee. I eventually found a quiet and inviting parking complex, as all the porta-toilets had 30 minute waits and I had waited 15 and was bursting.

I found my corral, and lined up. I was not too sure what to expect, as I had never run with this many people before. I took the requisite group shot and then waited. The organization was very good and the waiting was not terribly long. It was a perfect morning for a run, just around 8 C. Then the gun fired and I was off.
This run felt more like a training run than anything else. I will not go into any great detail about the run itself, as it was unremarkable. I ran steadily but not phenomenally. I essentially ran at the same pace as I had in my previous half marathon, the RPS, last April.

I took my time, stopped for water and Gatorade and several bathroom visits. There were strange and interesting bands every few miles. I resisted the temptation to take pictures, but I soaked in all the atmosphere.

Not once did I feel overwhelmed by the effort, which tell me I didn't push myself. I did feel the familiar tightness and cramping above my left knee and in my calves that stalled by Ironman attempt last year, but I simply slowed down and slogged through it. This was a start, not a finish. My results are recorded by Garmin here. 

I didn't really pay that much attention to the time. I was just pleased to have finished. I got to the finish line and had this strange sense of "what adventure will I do next". Which is very different from the euphoria I normally feel at the end of a race. But again, this was in every way a run, not a race.

After connecting with friends (I had been waiting in the wrong place, and they all got to the finish line before me!), we had the compulsory low alcohol beer - Michelob Ultra, which, I must admit is the one beer that is actually worse than the usual American beers.

After the drive home, and another visit to the outdoor pool and hot tub, I enjoyed yet another rare experience for me, watching an NFL Conference Championships at an American bar. Truly an experience that I have not had. More akin to watching the Montreal Canadians in a Stanley Cup final in Montreal, than any CFL final, even the Riders.

It was both a gastronomic and entertaining treat. The enthusiasm and pride that I saw bar patrons and bar staff put in their teams was equal to Canadians' but had a totally different sense of importance and immediacy. The voyeur in me thoroughly enjoyed it.

Following this experience, the weekend drew to a close, we drank and dined a little more, although too much post race food, negated any hunger. The next day was a slow wind down and a trip to the airport.
Like a deep water diver, it was a welcome and slow return to the atmospheric pressure of home. The sunset over Calgary was the last of the warmth of the trip, as I returned back to the arctic blast and familiarities of home.

And as it turned out, and as I have hinted, the trip itself was more of a highlight than was the run. Still I finished and was not upset by my untrained results.

An incredibly busy week of work ensued that not only did not let me reflect on the race further, but prevented me from reaching out to both real life and virtual friends who provided the support that helped me leading up to the race.

Then, without much prep time, it was time to do the Tour of Sufferlandria, a nine day indoor bike tour, which will be reported on in the next blog installment. Thanks to SP and his friends for their hospitality. This was an experience
I hope to have again. I hope to be able to run again for nothing but the pleasure of both the run and the destination.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Back to running...in circles.

So apparently I running a half marathon in a week. Actually, I'm getting on a plane to meet up with an old friend and then fly to a city I've never been to before to run in a huge, popular race.

I'll be participating in P.F. Chang's Arizona Rock and Roll Half Marathon.  Whew! That's a mouthful. To be honest, this was always more about spending some time with an old friend, than competing to get a personal best. I think my personal best in a half marathon is just under two hours.
Sharing a happy moment with friend on the Appalachian Trail
This race, if I don't burn myself out and don't get carried away by running too fast with the crowd, will be two hours and plenty of change.

Still, needs must. I have been training. I started off with the best intentions. Being quite proud of myself by running through the cold and the snow of a typical Saskatchewan Fall and early Winter. Then, out of nowhere, came the Polar Vortex.

What's that? I don't know! It was not that much colder than the time I ran the Hypothermic Half marathon in -47 C ish. But, apparently, with a windchill of colder than -50 C, parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba were colder than the surface of Mars. But, again. I've run in that, but not lately. So I went inside to the track. Don't get me wrong. I did take every opportunity to run outside, whenever the temperature got "warm"; finding my happy places -- both those in my mind and on the trail. I relished in the opportunity to be outside, yet, they were few and far between. It was beautiful, but rare.

On New Year's day, along with some great friends, went snowshoeing at Pasqua Lake. It was frigid -- -37C ish, I had the wrong clothes, and it was more of a test of resolve to not turn back despite cold extremities, than an endurance challenge. But the experience was rewarding. It reminded me of the benefits of endurance activities, the buzz that I get afterwards, and, unfortunately, the excuse to eat without guilt.

-37C New Year's Day sunrise at Pasqua Lake
Still it was beautiful to be out. To be exercising in temperatures that closed entire US cities and to be enjoying it. But again. The outdoor experience, even the cross-training opportunities, such as snowshoeing were few and far between.

As I noted earlier, I went indoors, to the track. It is an otherwise welcoming, warm place, but in reality, it is the realm of the rings of hell where one runs circle after circle on a surface that was designed by City of Regina accountants who thought they would save a few bucks by putting a thin, rubber-like substance on solid concrete. Even running on a frozen concrete sidewalk feels softer.

But, I'm still blessed to have this indoor facility. LSD run of just over 21.km. 
I recognise that many don't. So I ran indoors; several weeks ago completing 14 km. This week, a little stressed that I had not done enough run training, and with just over a week to go before the race, decided to dedicate three hours of my life to run a full half distance (the contradiction of a "full half" does not get noticed by endurance athletes, by the way). I did it. I ran a very very slow, or as they call it in the bizz. Note that my bike training is ahead of schedule, ironically!

I took my time. I stopped every 15 minutes and drank water or the drink I'll be drinking at Ironman Boulder. I went to the bathroom. I stretched. I had two gels. I got into several conversations. It was a not too unpleasant way to spend a Saturday, if you discount having to go around the rings of hell 91 times.

During the run, I was reminded of the mental toughness that I've written about in the past. It wasn't that the run was difficult. It wasn't really tough or painful until 15km; when the hardness of the surface and the only going in one direction for so many laps finally started taking a toll on my legs and their joints. For those that know this track, there is an opportunity to go in the opposite direction of the running flow. I availed myself of that opportunity for two 15 minute segments. Then the track club showed up and took up two lanes, so that option was shut down!

The truly tough part was all mental.

I coped by doing lots of thinking. I thought about one friend who has completely changed her life and her physique. In one year, she transformed herself into a person more like what she wants to be, than what others assume she should be. That gave me the resolve to continue moving when I thought about being ready to quit. It is quite an interesting process, actually. How the mind rationalizes. "I've done 17km. That's three more than I've done;  and I will really need to stretch; and I don't want to be here all day; and this is enough; and I'm really thirsty; and I don't want to wear out my shoes; and everyone else on the track is annoying me; and I don't want to get get nipple chafe;  and I don't want to slip and hurt myself; and gosh, it is really dry in here;  and and and..." ad absurdum. I didn't quit.

I thought about all the training I have to do to get ready for Ironman Boulder in August. I thought about how lucky I was to have the luxury to just drop everything and just think, albeit while going nowhere, and in circles.

And then, before I knew it. It was over. I actually ran 21.2k. I wasn't planning on breaking any records. It was a sheer luxury to not rush, to put my feet up and just soak in the fact that I had just run my first indoor half marathon in over three years.

As a little ironic note to other Regina, Saskatchewan athletes, I couldn't actually "soak" as the facility's hot tub is "out of order", because the City of Regina can't figure out why competitive athletes, young and old, are getting sick in the pool facility. Could be too much chlorine and not enough ventilation, but I ain't no scientist.

So now what? This will be a taper week. Maybe some overly chlorinated swimming. Maybe 5k here and there. I also have to get on the bike as the Tour of Sufferlandria looms when I return. I will write more about that soon.

This week, I'll concentrate on looking forward to a great experience with an old friend. I will run, who knows how fast, but I will run. It has been too long, but, as one other friend, now living far away noted, "He's running again! Like in the good old days!". 

As I noted in the previous blog entry. The prodigal is back. 2014 will be a year of returns, a year of making new and entrenching existing connections, virtual and real-life. It will also be a year  of transforming circles into tangible achievement.

Bring it on!




Monday, 30 December 2013

The Return of the Prodigal...to Ironman

The parable of the Prodigal has always resonated in my life. But unlike the story in Luke, I've related to the younger sibling in a far more allegorical way. For me it has been less about the leaving and return as it has been about the leaving without ever parting and returning while remaining away.

Nietzsche wrote of the eternal recurrence, and how things will occur over and over again. I'm more drawn to Milan Kundera's challenge in The Unbearable Lightness Of Being that we only live once, thus the "lightness" of being compared to Nietzsche's "heaviness" of recurrence and return.

But for me, this lightness is ill defined and grey. Although we may exist but once, within that finite life are infinite possibilities, lifetimes and existences. And each one of these multiplicities exist within our own consciousness. Both the high road and the low road are taken, as is the road less travelled. It is also that comeback line that you wish you had said to the office bully, but that you thought of only after you got home. In the reality of your consciousness, you did say it. Is that any less real, in your mind, than if you had said it face to face.

Abstract this one step further by thinking about social media. Is something you wrote to a "friend" on Facebook any more or less real than face to face or by telephone or text? And what about something you tweeted or messaged to a total stranger that you may or may never hear from again? Is that any more or less real than the multiplicity of realities that percolate and evolve between your ears? The reality of your existence is what you determine is worthy of your time and your attention. Or, more tangibly, to what extent can you multitask between real life and the more ephemeral journeys in your mind.

Triathlete Identity Disorder

So before I start going down the road of Dissociative Identity Disorder, what road am I returning from and what does this have to do with swimming, biking and running? Well, absolutely nothing. And everything. Similarly it has nothing to do with the story of the Prodigal. Kinda sorta nothing...

I haven't made an entry to this blog since February 2013. And Before that December 2012. Before that I made quite regular entries enumerating triumphs and challenges in my endurance and triathlon reality.

Two Ironman Attempts and Two DNFs

A number of things happened between 2011 and 2013 that I have not written about at length. Obviously an infinite number of things happened. But specifically, in my athletic career, I faced the continuation of my first significant injury with Plantar Faciitis, I also lived through what can be best described as a near drowning at the St. George Ironman. Lastly, I faced the disappointment of quitting the Coeur d'Alene Ironman after finishing the 180km bike ride with serious cramps and having to painfully walk for 21km on the "run".

So that makes five attempts. Three successful ones at Ironman Canada, when it was still in Penticton, BC, yielded faster results and more focused, not necessarily more intense, training. But with return to training between 2011 and 2013 and the two US attempts, I found that I wasn't really "returning" to race form.  I was still away,  traveling along familiar training paths without committing to the new and more intense work that was required as I got older.

I was back, but not really. My mind was still on a journey somewhere that I have yet to define and understand. In many ways, I'm still on this journey, although nothing tangible has changed in front of my eyes. I have taken the high road and the road less traveled and used that killer comeback to the bully simultaneously.

Sisyphus and the Boulder

The Myth of Sisyphus has always helped guide me in my decisions. In part to not live the hubris demonstrated by the king, but more so in the lessons extrapolated by Albert Camus in his postmodernist work, The Myth of Sisyphus. How to live life in the face of the Absurd and in the absence of the absolute has always challenged, intrigued and motivated me. 

The hallmark of the myth is Sisyphus going through eternity having to push/roll a boulder up a hill only to have that boulder fall just before the summit.

The past two Ironman attempts have very much felt like futile exercise.

One of my favorite elements of Milan Kundera's literary leitmotifs is that of life featuring and endless string of coincidences, that although meaningless in isolation can be tied together to lead to significant ends.

There are countless such coincidences in my life that I will explore here in the future. Including the ones that introduced me to the sport in the first place.

But the one that stands out now relates to my return. My return to the sport; to extended family; and hopefully, to the success I had before 2011.

I will be attempting Ironman Boulder (Colorado) in August, 2014. The name of the location is not an overlooked irony. Nor is the fact that I have family and friends in Boulder. It is somewhat also salient to my prodigal theme that I have been away from Boulder for 33 years. My two visits there, while still a teenager were formative, memorable and still resonate in my consciousness.

Let this serve as the notice of the return of the prodigal. To training; to racing; to Ironman; and to Boulder.


Let this too serve as a return of this prodigal to the craft of writing and creation that has too long eluded me.

SWIM BIKE RUN WRITE!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

I miss the suffering

This is the time of year when I start getting serious about the swim/bike/run. With a race at the end of June, it is important that I build, not only my physical fitness, but my mental fitness and attitude about being ready. I won't be ready until I feel like I'm ready.

This year, however, I decided to try something different. For the past nine days, I participated in a virtual bike tour. The Tour of Sufferlandria. This event, involving more than 1000 cyclists from around the world was the brilliant brainchild of the folks at The Sufferfest and TrainerRoad. More on the event, below.

The Sufferfest makes amazing, impossibly challenging, irreverant, indoor training videos. These videos use a Point of View story telling approach where the rider is a citizen of Sufferlandria and is competing for actual professional road and tour races against the likes of Cancellara, Wiggins and the Schlecks. There is even some great footage of women's pro racing and they are by no means any easier! The music, which is an assortment of indie, techno and other not-played-on-the-radio tunes is a feast for my starved ears.

Part of the P.O.V. role playing of Sufferfest, includes a Director Sportive, Grunter Von Agony and his minions who are out to get the most out of you. That includes flogging and suffering and the use of the bucket. (If you have to ask about the bucket, you don't want to know). With video names such as Fight Club, Hell Hath No Fury, There Is No Try, and Downward Spiral, these videos are entertaining. When done correctly-and honestly, the workouts coming out of these videos are some of the best I've ever had. The narrator makes you feel guilty and threatens you with flogging. You want to work harder. You want to suffer you want to get stronger. The motto of Sufferfest is IWBMATTKYT. It is more of a mantra. I Will Beat My Ass Today To Kick Yours Tomorrow. I find this more motivational than HTFU.

TrainerRoad is software. It is pretty amazing actually, using your computer, you can ride along to a set program and it will calculate cadence and HR (through an ANT+ stick). If you have a power device, it will use that. If you don't, it will calculate virtual power, based on the known data about your indoor trainer. (I use the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine.

All workouts can be reviewed online.
This software is nothing short of amazing. I am not a numbers guy, but for the first time in my life I'm getting a sense of how hard I am working, how lazy I've been and what my true threshold and capacity to do work can be. The most amazing thing about TrainerRoad, is that you can drop in Sufferfest videos (or  select other training videos) and they will sync up. Where has this been all my life?

The guys at both of these outfits have impressed me tremendously with their level of service, their senses of humour and their eagerness to make the tedious indoor workout experience less tedious. They actually reply to your emails and will reply to your re-reply. I had some tech issues with both and they were resolved withing 30 minutes. Would have been resolved sooner, if I wasn't such a techno-dweeb.

So what is the Tour of Sufferlandria? It is billed as the world's toughtest indoor cycling tour. I have no reason to argue with that. Nine stages, twelve videos, in nine days. Using TrainerRoad's software, you are racing against your pre-measured Functional Transfer Power. In other words. You know how hard you  can work. Can you work that hard consistently over the nine days?

For this first year of the event 1024 brave souls signed up. 522 completed it. The completion number is actually higher, but stats were kept through the TrainerRoad site. Those who did the videos without the online tracking were not...well...tracked. There were prizes too. A schwack of them!

This was, by far, the best time I've ever had with my bike indoors. I did remarkably well and set a number of personal power records. You can track see my results here. Over the nine day, I rode over 300 kilometres, did 12 videos, washed and rewashed three different sets of bike kit, went through 26 towels and lost 5 pounds. Then there was the bucket...
I also went through my favourite trainer tire. It developed a serious gash halfway through the tour. I think it just had too much of me moaning and suffering.

So, after all this suffering, it is time for me to get back to the real training. Training for the long triathlon that is coming up. The Tour of Sufferlandria has been a treat. It has been an exceptional workout and has given me a strength foundation that I'll need. It has given me a personal confidence in my abilities that  makes me smile and helps me walk taller.  
With temperatures bouncing around from -48C to -1C, it is unlikely that I will be doing any outdoor riding on my tri bike locally before May. The Tour of Sufferlandria has kickstarted  indoor training to the extent that I'm ready for whatever I have to do to get ready for Ironman bike ride. Now, I have to remember how to run and swim!  
I am missing the camaraderie of all the Tour participants. Quite and active community sprung up on Facebook and I got to meet some interesting people and hear some very compelling stories. There is even a support group that has sprung up for those, like me, that are missing the suffering. The fact is, the suffering will always be there. in my basement and on my computer. It will also always be in my head as I struggle to compete and wonder if I can do it...I can do it, because I suffered, I prepared and IBMATTKYT!