Thursday, 9 December 2010

And miles to go before I sleep...

Looking out of the 5 a.m. window this morning, I wondered if anyone else has the same fear and trepidation that I have before a winter run.

My routine is pretty simple. I check the weather channel and cross check it with the network news and do a triple verification on a web weather site the night before. If the temperature is supposed to be in the descent range, start thinking about going for a run in the pitch black of a Saskatchewan winter morning. It is of course understood that December 9th is not yet winter.

The whole process is much akin to using the entrails of a chicken to prognosticate and plan the next day's outdoor exercise, or whether (no pun intended), there will be any at all. My threshold for a solo run in the dark, when everybody is still sleeping is -20c. Now the wind often blows here, so -20c is the perceived temperature. This morning, for instance, it was -6c, but with a windchill of -19c (37km/hr winds). I have come to understand that running alone, in the dark at temperatures below that is just stupid.

Now I have been stupid in the past. For instance running the Hypothermic Half marathon in -36c one year and then compounding the stooopid factor by running it again the subsequent year when it was -47c with windchill. Don't get me wrong. It can be done. And other than the panic when I couldn't get my frozen balaclava to work or my glove back on after trying to scrape some frozen gel into my mouth, it was somewhat generally, mostly unpleasant. But think of the bragging rights!

I still remember, during one training run that was longer than three hours, a wise fellow runner wondered "why are we doing this, we aren't training to be flippin' polar bears!"

But I do it because I need to run. Not run inside, but be outside. Moving. Breathing...and being just a little scared of what could happen if I stop.

Returning to my pre-run routine. After checking all the weather information sources, and noting that every one of them offers different data, I decide yes/no based on temperature. If it is a go, I lay out clothing appropriate to the expected temperature. It is all about layers. Then I sleep. In the pre-run eerie darkness, I again check the temperature. Sticking my face out the door is pretty useless because, at this time of year, the wind is more relevant than the absolute temperature. So I look out the window at the evergreens and the chimneys.

When I finally make the decision to run...I face a brief moment of fear. Am I dressed appropriately? What happens if I slip. What happens if I can't run and I'm sweaty? In the five or so years I've been doing this, I have only turned back home once. That was due to so much ice that I couldn't make it more than half a block without slipping.

Still, the fear is there. I never feel this fear in the fall or summer or spring. What if I'm too hot? Well, I can peel off a layer. I can do that every other season. Not now. My layers are at the bare minimum to provide warmth, but limit moisture as I sweat more than the average industrial condenser.

I've often wondered why it is that my heart rate always races the first 5 minutes of the run. Maybe I'm having an anxiety attack over the fear of the unknown.

Still. At 5 a.m. the sparkling white darkness invites me, like the song of sirens into a strangely familiar realm to which I must return.

Within half a block from my house I'm fine, the panic subsides and is replaced by the annoyance of aching joints and muscles. That too subsides by the time I'm on the trail. From there, I find my stride and complete the run I chose to do...and never again consider the cold or the wind or the snow. 

But I dare not stop. 
...Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest mornings of the year...

Friday, 3 December 2010

Becoming the lyric

I’ve taken to listening to podcasts. Not the CBC or NPR sorts where lofty ideas are floated. My auricular  peccadilloes are a little less grandiose, yet so much more expansive. 

I do things to music. I have always done things to music. It composes, not so much the soundtrack of my life, but the libretto of my essence.  Long before the Walkman existed, I remember truckin’ (yeah truckin’!) around town with a portable mono cassette/radio in a small canvas purse-thing and a pair of Sennheiser earphones rescued from my brother’s garbage bin after Rusty, the family dog had chewed them within an inch of their phono 1/4 inch plug.  I still remember the odd looks I got on the ski slope as I got of the chair lift with this contraption strapped on to me like a man purse with brain scan attachment.

A few years later. Sony did introduce it’s revolutionary Walkman. This was truly revolutionary. Even though I had clearly invented the device a number of years earlier, Sony had managed to miniaturize a cassette player and create the first viable portable listening device. The build-up to my crescendo to a onanistic auralgasm through the use of increasingly miniaturized devices parallels a number of narratives of my life. But this isn't the place for it. Suffice it to say that sometime between Kate Bush and R.E.M. I made the leap from portable CD player to MP3.

Since that time I have never been too far from music. I pride myself on having perfect pitch...well, being able to distinguish and occasionally hit any note I hear. This isn't to say that I can sing. My family makes it all too clear that my singing is closer to Leonard Cohen than to Bon Jovi. That's fine. When I sing now, it is often inside my head or outside - with nothing but the asphalt disappearing beneath my clincher wheels. Or on anotherwise empty running trail. Singing out loud while swimming, on the other hand, has proven to be a little problematic -- more from a breathing point of view, than anything else. 

Sometimes, with earbuds connecting me to my little musical stash, I can reach the right note and put the melody together and find my voice. When I am in key, and I know the lyrics it becomes a little pocket of perfection. I can no longer hear the song. Just myself. When I'm in tune everything plays out according to a song sheet that was long ago written. With the right tune, all the training and effort coalesce into a forward momentum that releases endorphins that feel like a peaty whisky entering my blood stream. 

Podcasts extend this euphoric stream of consciousness into multi-hour sessions that would make a transcendental yogi blush. 

I know there are many out there that advocate listening to your own body instead of music when doing endurance training. Sure...maybe for some. But the delicious secret that isn't really talked about is that the music never leaves you. Long after the batteries have run out. Or during the race when you are forbidden from using earphones, your personal soundtrack continues beats on in harmony with your heart.

During Ironman Canada 2010, I had some precious tunes running through my head as I swam, biked and ran through the Okanagan. They cheered me, sped me up, salved my pain and ultimately reveled in the triumph of my personal best time. Apparently there was music all along the course. I never heard it.

To become the endurance athlete that I'm trying to be, I have learned the I first must become the lyric to the soundtrack of my life. Without it, everything goes out of sync and all around me cacophony echoes.

This is the coda. And the overture.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Spinning Tunes.

Photo by CJ Katz
So this week I went back onto the bike. I was never off it really, but it was  more often leisurely commutes to work or invigorating offroad gambles on knobby tires. The weather in this land has now turned to the nine month season that, amongst  many less-than-obvious benefits, includes no bugs. Other than the occasional foray with the cyclocross into the snow, or gingerly transporting a bike to and from a waiting car, there is little outdoor riding happening in -20 celcius.

But I got onto the bike - indoors. The hour-long experience reminded me how a fluid trainer forces you to be honest. On the road, unless you are doing the macho cyclist socks-match-the-shorts-thing, you can always coast. Or you can soft pedal and still propel yourself towards your destination. You can "cheat". 

Indoors, you are racing no one but the clock. If you cheat, you are just wasting your time - and even worse, you are in a basement or living room or kitchen and getting sweaty and being pathetic for nothing. You have to be honest and do the work...otherwise, why bother? Unless you must soft pedal for recovery, because of an injury or other viable reason, there are far better exercises and activities in which to engage rather than wasting time on a trainer. 

I administer an indoor bike class for my triathlon club. By administer,  I mean run, operate, lead, set up, collect, clean up and wake up for, every dark, freezing, godless, Saturday morning. I still shake my head about why I do this. I know why I do. I enjoy the experience and the energy I get back from the other riders. I'll go with that.  This year, I decided that I would lead a lot more of the sessions, rather than rely on videos, such as Spinervals. Why? I wanted to challenge my introverted self into stepping (or spinning) a little further out of my comfort zone and share with the participants some of the routines that I have picked up in my brief life as an endurance athlete.

So I spent a lot of time thinking and writing down a number of training sessions that would first not scare off the participants, and that would gradually challenge them and help them feel like they were not "cheating", or wasting their time at that crack of stupid early morning.

I spent an equal amount of time putting music together. Trying to find music that would work with the training, but that would be interesting enough to keep the participants motivated. My musical tastes are quite expansive, and include most musical styles - except the that big haired abomination that, sadly still flourishes and shows up on "Greatest Hits format" radio stations and local concert halls catering to geriatric, and financially destitute axe wielders...but I digress. 

I felt a little like a David Bowie character - I am what I play. I put music together that I hope will surpise, inspire and keep every spinning. Last time I tried this, I was told, by someone in the know, that my music sounded like it came from a Greek discotheque. I took that as a compliment. 

So I got on the bike and the trainer this week. On Saturday at 7 am, I unveil my workout to the paying participants who hopefully like it enough to want to come back. In cycling, they call the TT, or time trial the race of truth. For me this will be the race of honesty during which some key questions will be answered. Is this challenging enough? Is it interesting? Can I keep up and lead the class? Will I pass out? 

Whatever happens, I'm locked into this until the first thaw in May. Honestly? I think I'm looking forward to this.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Race readiness, showering and the importance of play

I'm a guy to who likes to shower. During peak training, on a good day, I'm sometimes up to three or four a day. An environmentalist would probably say that's a bad day. Mind you, I don't eat red meat...but I digress...and believe me, not-showering would not be good for my immediate environment.

But stink-loving technical fabrics aside, I think it is more about the routine, than the cleanliness. Sure, I put the "wet" in sweat, but starting the day with a quick lather, just seems right. finishing a workout, or a swim or a ride or a run with a quick, not too-aggressive scrub is just second nature now.

So the other day, I was greeted on a workday by she-who-shares-my-genes not with breakfast in bed, but with the request for a very early lift to school. Well, of course. A challenge is a challenge and I rose to the occasion, as it were. A few minutes of cursory hygiene and wardrobe selection later, I was in the car driving to work, via school.
Although I was conscious of the not-yet-shaved and showered feeling, I was not overly concerned as I knew I could catch up during the noon-hour swim session.

But I got to thinking. And while I'm still in the grips of T3, I seem to do more thinking than anything else! I thought about race readiness. According to the experts, race readiness is supposed to be how ready one is, physiologically and mentally to participate in a race or competition. Yeah, I suppose it has something with that. But what I really think it is about is how ready are you to go out and play?

Do you remember? When the little snot-nosed kid from next door came by and would ask if you wanted to go out and play -- what was the go/no-go parental decision usually based on?
  • Was homework done?
  • Chores? 
  • Was it cold/were you appropriately dressed?
  • Were you fit enough - not sick and capable of playing without getting hurt?
  • What was the playing "history" with this snot-nosed kid? Any trouble with local authorities?
  • Were you adequately fed and/or could you get back in a reasonable time for a meal?
  • Would you benefit from the activity in any way?
These are all questions that any racer goes through before going to sleep the night before a race. Sure the specificity of them may be different, but the essence is the same. Are you ready to do this and if you are not, what will be the cost if you do it anyway?

So, I was driving back from the early-morning drop-off, unshowered, but completely confident that I had been ready to perform the unexpected task that was asked of me. But how ready was I to go out and play? How ready was I to go and run or swim or bike at any pace faster than a leisurely amble that I have mastered of late?

Well, judging from a near-PB on my first 10k race in years the week before, some solid off-road bike riding and a surprise 1300m swim earlier in the week, I could probably hang out and keep up with the snot-nosed kid.

This whole experience reminded me that  throughout the race season, but more so during the off-season, being prepared for anything is essential. Whether that anything is a pick-up game of football, a muddy trail ride, or even an early morning drive.

And why is it important to be prepared during the off-season? Because play is important. Play is what keeps you limber, agile and cogent enough  to take on the next challenge. Play is what will entice you into a novel activity that will re-energize your soul. Play is what will keep you young, even as, with every passing year, you will race with fewer people your age and against many more that do not remember the rotary phone, the 8-track or the Soviet Union. 

Most of all, and most importantly, play is what will give you a reason to look forward to having a shower...sometimes even having one with a close friend!

Monday, 1 November 2010

HOCl and the sweet smell of total body fatigue

Sixty-one days. That's how long it has been since I was last in the water with the express intent of doing something other than bobbing.
I distinctly remember the last time. It was late August. there were several thousand of my closest fellow masochists waiting to go from Point A to Point A  trying to stretch it into a 3.8km hour-plus sojourn in Lake Okanagan.

Now I have been in the water once or thrice since then, but that didn't really count as I also spent some time in a eucalyptus steam room, and that negates any actual attempt at exertion.

It has been a full two months. And on the first of November, I made my triumphant return to my favourite pool, the pool that has so much HOCL that it is used as a remedy for athlete's foot and a host of other conditions that I try not to dwell upon.

I have always maintained that swimming is not so much a sport, as it is a means of not drowning. It is one of the few public activities where there are actually people employed to sit around and, occasionally, save your drowning ass if you have a momentary lapse of understanding that lungs and fluid don't mix.

Sure, there are medics and other people with bandages at races and rides for those who fall, or have a pre-existing condition catch up with them. But in a pool, or on some swanky beaches there are folks out there to actually pluck you out of the water.

It is that sense of risk and danger that keeps some people away from the pool. Others it is the fear of how they look in a Speedo, or worse, how others look in a Speedo. The Mediterranean vacations of my past notwithstanding, I chose this day to return to the pool and, not one bit ignorant of the religious undertones, re-mmerse myself into a ritual that, for four years has punctuated my lunch hours.

To say it was a triumphant return, is a bit of an overstatement. Had I bellyflopped off the high platform and then completed 1000m using a one-armed butterfly stroke, then I could have bragged.

But no, I meandered to the free lane, avoiding puddles on deck, as I had forgotten to pack my pool sandles. I wear these more to deal with the "gross factor" of stepping in warm liquid of unknown providence, rather than out of a genuine concern for hygiene - see HOCL above.

Having found my place in the slow lane. I observed several other swimmers swimming clockwise circles and a walker bouncing to and fro and looking quite determined to splash as much water as possible.

I wasn't in any rush. I was back in my element. I had long ago conquered my fear of this aqueous substance, and somewhat overcame the embarrassment of the follicular overabundance everywhere, but on my palms.  I licked my goggles - an anti-fogging trick first used in this country by fur traders and gold rush prospectors, I believe. I stretched on my swim cap, put on the goggles and gingerly lowered myself into the 18c degree water.

And with a kick off the bulkhead, so began yet another season of the striving for a dull, happy fatigue created by swimming and that no other excercise can mimic.

Typing these words now I am surrounded by a subtle, but pervasive bouquet of Chlorine. And I know at last, as Frankenfurter once said. I'm going home.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Feeling Awkward and the OSM

From time to time, we all find ourselves in situations about which we may feel slightly uneasy. I was reminded of this by the recent World Triathlon Corporation's Ironman Access program launch and almost immediate rescinding of that program after considerable customer outcry on social networking sites. I've said my piece on this issue elsewhere...

But what I am interested in is that moment of discomfort. That instant when an individual (or a corporation's CEO) has an OSM -- an oh shit! moment. Everyone has had these. Something that seems like such a good idea at the time, actually turns out to be the worst of all possibilities.

Think of how you felt while getting stitches after using the pocket knife to tighten a screw. Or standing awkwardly, alone, after sharing an anecdote with someone whom the anecdote was actually about! Or, realizing that 300m into a mass swim start that maybe going full speed and keeping up with the leaders wasn't such a good idea, especially with more than 3km more to go. Or, my favourite, having your partner photograph someone who is not your partner straddling you in the cockpit of a car.

I've had more than my fair share of OSMs. Some of them in triathlon, and just as many, if not more in the dress-up, adult world. What intrigues me is that the moment of realization is not after the gaff has occurred. For me, the OSM happens just before the damage is done.

As I'm forming words in my mouth, but have not yet recruited my larynx, I have found my self inexorably hurtling towards uttering something that should never, ever have left my lips. It is like a train wreck. Everything is in slow motion. It actually feels like I've left my body and I'm looking down at the show. The verisimilitude is stunning. Sometimes it is even in 3D! What always whips me back into reality is the sudden sick feeling in my stomach, the unexplainable clammy hands and the palpable feeling of sickness that floods my blood stream riding shotgun with the adrenalin release. 

In my life, OSMs follow patterns. I see them coming. It is like Tourrettes but with a built-in early warning system. When I pay attention, I can stop them before anyone but my inner self notices. No damage is done. And actually, sometimes I may even learn from the only-in-my-head experience.

I'm in the middle of an OSM right now. I have very few definitive races planned for 2011, no set training plan, no regimen to follow. I've been sticking to a training plan for the past four years. This!

My OSM? Oh shit! I'm starting to gain weight, I'm sleeping too much and not very well, I'm eating the wrong stuff - at the wrong time and I'm becoming more and more lethargic in my own sluggishness.

At the height of my Ironman training two years ago, I could tell, when on my bike or on the run, if something was about to go wrong. I had become so attuned to my body that I knew that a slight feeling of confusion and lack of conviction meant I was running on empty. A quick jolt of carbs had me back in form withing a couple of minutes. Similarly, a twinge in my quad while climbing out of the saddle reminded me that I was pushing too hard and maybe I was running a little low on electrolytes.

Just days before Halloween, I look in the mirror and find that I've started wearing a scary costume that I haven't worn in years - I'm dressed like a couch potato, albeit a sweet one, I'm told.

This is my OSM! It is time to change my course, and alter it before it becomes my reality. Some may call it a wake up call. I think it is the end of T3 for me. It is time to HTFU and get back to living the lifestyle that works. Back to training tomorrow.

Training for what? Training for life.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Leaving Footprints.

In a different era -- BTE -- before triathlons existed – at least in my consciousness – my sport of choice was walking. I used to walk everywhere. I grew up in a place where the transit system was cheap, convenient and efficient, yet I often would start the day a half hour early and walk the few extra miles or 5 to get to where I was going.
Walking was my outlet, my time with myself – a time of pure and simple self-sufficiency. With such a history of walking, it was no surprise when good friend, SP, suggested we explore hiking the Appalachian Trail, that I fell for the idea. 

It has not occurred to me, until now, how back then, decades before I knew anything about chaffed nipples, I was learning about pacing, endurance and mental toughness.
Thinking back to that glorious time of self-sufficiency, dried food and iodine water purification tablets, I learned a lot about myself – during that gloriously challenging month clambering and hiking among the rhododendron, wolf spiders, moonshiners and invisible bears on the Tennessee/North Carolina portion of Appalachian Trail.

Preparing for that trip involved countless planning meetings at Dunkin Donuts pouring over maps and supply lists and equipment catalogs and bus routes trying to plan for the big excursion. The parallels between how I approached this and my current race prep are unmistakable, except of course, there is no Dunkin Donuts where I now live and I prefer to not take Greyhound to race sites.

On the training side, the tools were different, but the methods and theory were no different than what I have done for Ironman.  I would fill my pack with books – 70 pounds worth and walk for hours and hours up and down city hills, uptown, downtown and anywhere that seemed would be a challenge in my urban landscape.

I would try different socks and shirts and pants. I practised walking with and without water.  I would try granola bars and GORP and Snickers bars. Occasionally, I even splurged on some Gatorade. When my legs or my back and neck started to ache from the strain, I would take a break for a day or two and ride my 10 speed.

And in so doing, I became more confident in my abilities and even a little cockier.  Even though, as a teenager, I was apprehensive about jumping on a bus and traveling so far from home, I was beginning to anticipate the challenge.

When we finally arrived and found our way to the trailhead, we were greeted with several days of non-stop rain. All my hopes and dreams for a great adventure into adulthood were dampening, like my wool socks. I still have my journal from that time and that section reads like the last words of a man forever trapped underground with supplies dwindling almost as fast as patience. 
This was the same experience I found myself in some of my first races. All of a sudden, 300m into the swim, wearing a third-hand wetsuit that was too big for me, I realized that my arms were already tired and I still had 1600m to go – just to finish the swim!

The nascence of the terms “suck it up, buttercup” and “Harden the fuck up” are unknown to me, but it is precisely those sentiments that got me moving. In Tennessee, where we were holed up in our tent for days, stupidly waiting for the rain to stop, I hiked up out of valley and realized it was only raining in the valley! 

In Morden, Manitoba, it was a kick to the head from another swimmer that made me realize that I was in a half-iron distance race and it just wasn’t going to get any easier. 

The interval between my Appalachian adventure and start of my life as an endurance athlete is just over 20 years. In that time, I moved and lived some great adventures and had wonderful relationships and found the love of my life and together we grew a family that I still have to pinch myself about.

At the end of some of my races, I feel great, but always find that I could have done better had I just pushed a little more, or spent a little less time in transition. This realization leaves me often with a feeling of a void – like I missed some opportunity. 

Looking back at the decades between my youthful adventures and my middle-aged athleticism , I don’t feel that void.  I can’t imagine getting to where I am now without having experienced what I did in those 20-plus years.  I am sure, on further reflection, I will also discover even more examples of experiences that made me HTFU and get on with it.

Just this week, I finally completed the tattoo on my ankle. I never really wanted a tattoo, but the accomplishment of three Ironman races created in me a need for some kind of footprint in sand of where I’ve been.   

This marker of where I’ve been reminds me of some words I first read many years ago while I was preparing for my Appalachian sojourn. 
It is reportedly a quotation from Chief Si’ahl, (c. 1780 – June 7, 1866), the leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Tribes. His name, was anglicised to Seattle. Take nothing but memories and leave nothing but footprints, he is alleged to have said.
I took that line, apocryphal or not, to heart as I entered the wilderness with a sense of awe and respect. 

As I exit an entirely different sort of wilderness, I see the footprint in indelible ink that circles my ankle like barbed wire grown into the fleshy bark of a tree.  

I must keep stepping forward, making new memories, if I am to leave any more footprints in the sand.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Looking back at my life as an endurance athlete.

On August, 29th, 2010, I completed my third in a row Ironman Canada at a personal best time. I had some interesting struggles and some triumphs and a pannier-full of revelations about myself, my abilities and what motivates me. You can read all about the race, my actions and my times in my race report.  

But this isn't the place to go over the individual race. I deliberately took my time before I blogged, just so I could put some distance between where I am now and the four years of preparation, training and racing that went into three years of Ironman.  

During most of September, I also struggled with what I've come to understand as T3. In triathlon, one contends with two transitions - swim to bike and bike to run - T1 and T2.  T3 is the transition from racing to not racing. It doesn't matter if you are a professional, a serious age grouper or just some guy, like me, who one day decided to get up off the couch, T3 is something many triathletes and endurance folk will probably face after they have completed their "big" race. Google Marathon Blues or post race depression for some more specific thoughts on this. Or for a quasi scientific/scholarly analysis, read an Ironman specific analysis here

I've been to T3 before and got the Tshirt. The best way out of it is simply to plan another event or activity before the end of the "big" race. Then you have something to keep training for. You have good reason to rest and do very little (you have to rest up before the big push). This pre-planning (some would call it goal setting) also helps you answer that most annoying of questions - "so whatcha doin' next?" 

But this time, I wanted to try something different. I have been training so long and so hard, I had lost sight of what I was actually doing. Looking back at my training blogs over the past four years, I have seen reduced time in the pool and significantly less time on the bike. I did spend more time running this year, but that had something to do with a new goal - the Fargo Marathon. 

Despite the reduced training time, I still achieved a personal best. Not because I was in better shape, I would argue that I was in marginally mediocre shape, training wise. I did better because I raced smarter. I had a faster swim, despite ending up on the rocks and losing time there. I had a crappy bike ride. Mind you I got hailed and rained on and faced surprisingly strong winds. But my pre-race plan was to not push as hard on the bike and save something for the marathon run. 

The weather conditions forced me to not push that hard on the bike and I had a tremendous run - I actually ran! In my third year of racing I figured out how to race this race and was pleased with my results. I broke 14 hours by 10 minutes. If I were racing Ironman Canada a fourth year, I'd be focused on getting an even faster time.

But I'm not racing #4. Not this year. I'm looking back from the finish line. 

Over the past four years my family has been very patient and understanding with the absentee member of the family. Training 17 hours a week meant a lot of time out of the house and a little too much time in the shower. At least I was the one who did most of the laundry. My hope for this year and beyond is to synthesize everything I've learned about myself and coping with challenges and make our family life a little richer. (We will actually be a lot richer since I won't be spending all that money on race fees, travel  and hotel rooms this year!). My hope is to spend more time living my life with my beautiful family and looking for opportunities to train with them, whenever possible.

Over the past four years I've also made some friends through the sport and through the various blogs and websites I've trolled around. Some have become truly special confidants and albeit virtual, training partners and friends. I have traveled thousands of miles to see some of them, or traveled across the continent with them as athletic support. I've also texted with them from airports, Starbucks, hospital waiting rooms and roadside motels  for their words of wisdom, encouragement and acceptance.

Over the past four years I have met some others that I met have broken my heart.

Looking back beyond the finishing tape, what have I learned? More than I'm willing to admit. I used to joke that through this training I'm getting younger. And I did. Physically, I reversed much of the excessive living and corpulence that had taken hold of me. Similarly, I reversed some of the closemindedness and intolerance that I found myself experiencing. Ironically, when I was most alone - 30 km from home on foot or 120 km on bike, I was nearest to when I used to walk miles and miles alone after school as a pre-teen and teen. And, during those long, training sojourns, I found myself having the same rich, creative, expansive thoughts that I had believed were gone forever.

Looking back what have I learned? 
  • Procrastination is good, just don't make a habit of it.
  • Be prepared to improvise and you'll not have to...much. 
  • A little pain means you are doing it right. a lot of pain means you're not. 
  • Hear from everyone, but listen to yourself.
  • Those who have the least to give you sometimes give you the most.
  • The more you spend (time and money) the faster you will become, but then what?
  • Shower lots, but don't forget to moisturize.
  • Swimming in a chlorinated pool in your running shorts will get the stink out.
  • If you can't run, walk...but really, are you sure you can't run?
  • Make peace with the wind. You don't have much of a choice.
  • Experience fear, discomfort and disappointment during training - you'll respect them more race-time
  • Asthma drugs rob you of Potassium. Stock up on your bananas and Fig Newtons.
  • A little spit goes a long way...preventing fogging in goggles, for instance. 
  • A C02 pump will quickly inflate your tire. A conventional pump will get you home.
  • During a race, stopping feels great. Finishing feels better.
  • If your butt hurts on the bike, stop sitting so much.
  • If your loved one says she doesn't mind you training for 6 hours...again, spend time with her instead. 
  • Non racers don't care about the details of the race. It's the bloopers that are interesting.
  • There is no shame in lubing your nether regions. 
  • Regular running shoe laces still work better than speed laces during long runs.
  • You can save money by eating and drinking real food during training. 
  • There will always be people faster and slower than you. Who cares! Just beat the nun!
  • Every little while do a systems' check and see that you are on track, then adjust appropriately. 
  • Make your experiences available for others to read. Learning should never be kept secret. 


Tuesday, 24 August 2010

...So take another drink, 'cuz it will give me time to think...

Racing with Myself...
...oh oh oh oh!

I was thinking a lot about Billy Idol dancing in front of the mirror with himself and I couldn't help seeing some of the similarities with the situation I've found myself in this third year of Ironman training and soon, racing.

This year has been a peculiar one. I've had lots of trouble finding the same motivation to do the duration and intensity of training I've done in previous years. At the same time, I've made breakthroughs, both physiological and intellectual that I never thought possible. I am not the same man I was when I started this Tri-angle over four years ago. Certainly not the same physically. My mind is wired differently now too.

Stress and setbacks in any aspect of life are now relative. It doesn't mean they are any less significant or relevant, but I approach them differently. Before I used to look for the answer to problems. I've learned. There ain't that many universal answers - or even specific ones. Instead, I look for solutions that will get me back on the road and the journey.

My best friend pointed out that I don't need to "to try to  fix everything". She's right. I've learned that I should try to fix how I respond, adapt and evolve from every situation, be it emotional, physical, or athletic. 

In my first year of Ironman and, somewhat in the second, I had a lot to prove. Both to myself and to others. I did that in spades in the first and seconded it last year.

This year, not so much. For a long time I just felt like I was just going through the actions, dancing with myself in front of the mirror, as it were. The other Bard croons:

Oh dancing with myself
Well there's nothing to lose
And there's nothing to prove
I'll be dancing with myself

And that is just it. I've got nothing to prove and nothing to lose. I'm just doing this because I said I would. I've grown up during this process and I've grown younger, as well. I have no idea what will happen on Sunday.  I know that physically, I'm as ready as I could be, albeit a little short on the long stuff. Mentally, I feel like I could do an Ultra! No! I'm not foreshadowing!

On Sunday there will be several thousand wetsuit clad athletes churning Lake Okanagan into a froth as this Tri-angle meets its crescendo. The one thing that I know for sure is that I'll be racing with myself..oh, oh oh-oh!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The long pause before a short burst.

In Japanese symbolism the koi can represent perserverance in adversity and strength of purpose. The strongest koi swims upstream until it reaches the final waterfall, where it vaults into the mists and becomes a water dragon.

It is apropos that the local graffiti guy, Def3, chose to paint a koi on a local, favorite wall  and that I noticed it after my first long ride of the season.

A little background. I chose this year to cut back on my races and focus on my first stand-alone marathon, Breaking 6 hours at the Great White North Half IM and getting a personal best in my third Ironman Canada.
To my surprise, I found that less was actually harder than more. Without an impending race, I meandered out of the current and found myself wading, walking...coasting - when I should have been pushing harder than ever to prep.
By my calculations, I volunteered over 25 hours at local triathlons as everything from Bike and Transition Captain to general gopher and set 'er uper. This kept me in the Tri spirit, but really did keep me away from training.
That being said, I did achieve my first two goals and am feeling a little too confident for my third. But getting the training in is proving very difficult. It is like I am swimming upstream. I can't seem to put together the epic training days and weeks that I had achieved last year and the year before.

It is the same with posting on this blog. I'm just not motivated. Maybe I'm swimming up against something that happens in the third year of endurance athletes...apathy...boredom...complacency?

With less than five weeks to go before Ironman Canada, I really have to get my gills into the training. I know I will and I know I have done the work to get me there, albeit in a meandering kind of way.

This lack of focus, however, points to the need to radically refocus for next season. More on that later. No more distractions, I have to do this training like a fish needs a bicycle - or something like that.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Pilot Error and the Silver Linings in Dark Clouds.

Recently, I wrote about failure and geometry. More specifically I noted that there was more to any endeavor than the distance between two points.

In a recent race I encountered a whole different type of error. Screwing up - doing an extra lap on the bike ride. Aside from that momentary (6 minutes worth) of a lapse (laps), the race was great. Best ever sprint bike ride of my life, pretty good swim, average run.

This was the "icebreaker" race. The morning started out with snow and it was -1C. The race organizers considered canceling the ride part of the race.

Instead. The transition was moved indoors (that added 5 minutes to my swim to bike time!) and I wore many layers and tights and a cover over my helmet - as did others.

I had the worst sprint triathlon time of my life - rivaling my first ever one I did 4 years ago.

I had the best time in a sprint triathlon in my life - rivaling my first ever one I did 4 years ago.

So how can this be? How can such a crappy performance be remembered so fondly?
It was a terrible day to be racing outdoors. Roads were wet, air was cold, snow was falling. But through all this, I decided that I would enjoy myself, regardless of what I encountered. I bundled up and took my time getting ready after the swim. But when I was ready, I gave it everything I had and blasted through the bike course that was straight and flat and with a tailwind in one direction that had me going 43k/hr.

It was so much fun that I forgot to count laps. I did seven, instead of six. But I enjoyed every single one of those laps and then followed them up with a strong and happy run.

This race was clearly an example of pilot error. I screwed up. I could have had a very good time. But, really, it is all about attitude. I didn't really care about time. I wanted to be comfortable, not cold. And I wanted to race as fast as I could, shrouded in a puffy dark cloud of comfort. Was I happy? I was ecstatic. And I took the energy of having completed this race into my very cold commutes to work.

This is not a race that will be forgotten soon...ask any one else who did it and they'll share similar stories.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Failure?...or this is where two dimensional reasoning gets you.

I was thinking about a high school geometry class earlier today. I spend a lot of time thinking about triangles. More specifically, I was thinking about points.

One point is a point in time/space. 
Two points make a line.
Three points create (potentially) a three-dimensional plane - although the math guru I spawned  would say: "but do not necessarily define a line -- they may not be collinear."
To summarize:  You need three points, at least if you are going to watch Avatar in 3D. You'll probably also need those geeky glasses too, though.

So after I sat down and let the blood rush back to my brain after these esoteric thoughts mathematical , I started to put into perspective a half marathon I ran on the weekend.  My goal was to finish in under two hours. I finished in 2 hours, 3 minutes and change. My personal best for that course is 1:58:48, my first ever run at that distance - and that course was 2:40 and change.

Ignoring the fact that I have been training for my first Marathon (two Ironman finishes don't count) at the end of May and am not completely focused on speed, I initially felt like I failed.

Of course I failed. All the other cool kids are running 1:40s or 1:50s...So what if I'm "big boned" and still running heavy and asthmatic and not very fast over long distances.  I still wanted to get from point A to point B in less than two hours, and I failed. didn't I?

Well. This is why I started thinking about geometry and Euclid, or was that Pythagoras - some Greek in any case. I became aware that my goals have been too two dimensional. I've been thinking about two points, when I should be thinking about three, or four or more.

My goals, as obtuse as they may sometimes seem, are so much more than point A to point B. They involve so many more dimensions, including time - but not necessarily finish time. They include building a healthy life, growing with my family, shrinking girth, and genuinely learning from the journey.

When I crossed the finish line,  I was disappointed. But I have to look at all the individual segments or points of the run  including the points that I was running a 4 minute/km pace; the preparation for it;  the ongoing prep for the full marathon in May and the sprint triathlon in two weeks. Oh and the rest of life that never goes on pause.

I realize that this triangle may not be as easily defined as  a2 + b2 = c2, but it has more relevance to what I'm doing than I first assumed. 

For those of you that are mathematically inclined, you will recall that a sum of a triangle's angles add up to 180 degrees. As I was running 21.1k, preparing to run 42.2k, it became acutely obvious to me that I would be seeing that 180 number before the run...180k bike ride in late August. Coincidence? Hmmm.There are no coincidences!

It is time to pull up my big boy tri shorts and HTFU. I started this journey because I grew tired of looking like a cuddly rhombus. It is not individual races or goals of finish times that motivate me. It is doing the training and building structures, physical, intellectual and emotional where none previously existed. And learning as much about myself in the process as I can.

No, not failure. Eureka!
I'd better get out of the bathtub now.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Is it time yet?

The great Orson Welles, after he became great "topographically", as well, did a series of tv ads for a wine company urging that no wine will be sold before it is time.

That catch phrase comes to mind a lot this time of year as I start to look forward to increasing the training I have to do and the races for which I have to prepare.
For the most part, the snow has melted. Yesterday,  I ran in shorts. I had my first tri-bike ride on the highway and the bike commuting to work has begun. Swimming outdoors is still two months away - even with a wetsuit, however.

I'm fully aware that the weather may change and I may have to return to doing all my training indoors again, albeit, for a few days. But that would be little more than a minor setback.

But is it time yet? For the first-time triathlete or endurance athlete, getting ready for the first season is all about focus on one thing - getting to the event ready to compete...or win...or survive.

For the athlete with one or three or more race seasons under her race belt, this is a time of prepping for balance. Balance between disciplines. Nutritional balance. Work-life balance. Most importantly, family balance. This is one thing that I'm still trying to learn.

In my first year, I tried to not sacrifice family time by just getting up earlier and earlier. So I was on the trail or on my bike at 5 or 6 am. This worked. (Sorta worked the woman I share my bed with would add). I missed lots. And the long runs and bike rides taking me out of the house for 5 to 7 hours did just that...kept me out of the house.

This year is going to be more about planning time around family. Including them in the training when possible, but being much more flexible when I do what I need to do to show up to the event ready to compete...or survive.

A big part of this is remembering not to stress if I miss a planned training session.

Stick to plan, that is wise
When you can't, improvise!

Catchy phrases aside, I have a sneaking hunch that this is going to be a great year for me both athletically and emotionally. I'm really looking forward to pushing myself hard to see what the third time at the big race will yield.

I'm even more looking forward to relaxing hard with those around me and thriving on their love and energy.

So, with respect to ramping up my training, yes, it is certainly time.

With respect to figuring out how to do this and not miss out on life, it's about time!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Bawdy Ink and Allegory.

I remember when I first embarked upon this TRIron-journey. The first question non-triathletes asked me, after "how far?" and "are you flippin' nuts?", was "are you going to get the tattoo?".

Now that was something everyone could understand. A tattoo. A permanent mark both recognizing and advertising the accomplishment. A brand...well, actually not a brand at all, more like a badge of honour. Branding is an entirely different kink.

I don't mean any sarcasm or misplaced witt in my words. The desire to celebrate an accomplishment is reasonable and justified. And I respect that. How one does it is a very personal and meaningful commitment to themselves or to those around them. Tattoos have a lot of history under them both personal and anthropological, other than those that are in some Asian script that actually spells "that ain't chicken".

So before I completed my first Ironman. My head was a-buzz with the merits of getting the M-dot. For all you noobs, that's what the call that M with a dot over it. It is actually a trademarked symbol. Its use in most of the media is somewhat strictly regulated - although not as much as the Olympics and their logo - but that "society" has a budget that rivals the Vatican.

I even recall some talk of tattoos with the M-dot having to have the Registered mark on them...but you can't believe everything you read, especially not online.

If you haven't figured it out just yet, symbols are just as important as words to me. And while I completely respect anyone's use of a now very commercial symbol on their body, I could not justify doing likewise. At least not without investing some additional meaning to it.

So on the advice of some very good friends and others who have seen me without clothes on, I came upon a design that included the M-dot, but was based on the stylized imagery of the individual events and my struggle to find proficiency. (still haven't found it by the way.) In addition, I also chose this to be a canvas in progress. Filling in the M-dots as I completed up to three Ironman races.

I found this to be the perfect marriage of making use of meaningful symbols and a nod to a recognizable, commercial entity, Ironman.

I was happy with the results a little anklet-like tattoo with swim bike run, one filled-in M-dot and two unfilled ones. The idea being that the unfilled ones would get filled as I completed more Ironman races.

Now I'm at two completed with another scheduled a few month hence. I haven't bothered to go "fill in" #2. Is it laziness? Fear of Hepatitis? Or do I just not want to stay away from swimming for a week or two for the expected crust to heal.

I think it goes deeper than the ink. It is the understanding of the finality of things. By completing this trio of ink it signals that I will be done. It will be over. Filling in #2 means #3 will need to be done soon too - if I ever complete the IMC in August.

Then what? More races...Silverman? Something more extreme?  Eating at KFC? More tattoos? Do I stop racing? Do I switch to branding or piercing? Or do I just suck it up and stop thinking about things so much.

Well. If I find a two week lull in my swim training, which I doubt, I might fill in #2...If not,  I will get it filled in after the race. Easy decision.

What about #3. Will I get that filled in then too?

Well, I know that I have acres of extra real estate on my body - even the small tracts that are unforested. But I don't really have any compulsion to get more ink, at least not of the iron variety.

So I'm seriously thinking of leaving one space unfinished...a hint that there will always be one more race. This could be my incentive to keep the spirit and soul of this lifestyle alive.

In some ways, it is a bit like the birthmark in  Nathaniel Hawthorne's story. Only in reverse. Adding it will foreshadow the end.

So who would have thunk that getting some ink in your body would end up being allegorical. Interesting things happen to one's body and mind when we are pushed to our limits.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Volunteering and race karma

Let me just state for the record that I believe in race karma.

I know, I know, sources very close to me will argue until they are blue in the face that it is all coincidence, that if you roll a six,  you will not change your odds for the next roll.

But if you have been following this blog through its presumptuous, circuitous meanderings over the past couple of months, you will appreciate that I believe that everything one does to prepare for a race will make a difference (good or bad) on race day.

I know, I know there is always the unplanned for, unpredictable fluke of luck or misfortune. But you can prepare for that by working on dealing with improvisation. Not theatre sports. Rather,  knowing how to take a breath;  evaluating the crisis and seeing how and if you can proceed and not end your day many miles before the finish line.

This is where the volunteering comes in.

When you volunteer for a race, or for a club, you are doing something that could, potentially, make you feel good - unless you are doing it to spite someone - but spite turns some people on, so whatever turns your Dura ace 7800.

By volunteering, you are making it possible for people that you may not even know to participate in something that scares, thrills or challenges them and that can, potentially, change their lives.

All this for showing up, hanging around and then having some stale donuts and cold coffee.

I know some of these volunteers. They don't race. But they show up, event after event and participate in their own way. They make the event possible for countless others and make future events possible just by contributing to the events' success.

Volunteering can also prepare you for a race though.

When you show up and set up a race and help racers and take down the race, you see some incredible things. Well, you also discover why public nudity should be enforced better at races, at least!

You can also see where racers make mistakes how they fix them, if they can, and how the MOP and BOPs get through the challenge. You will also see how the truly graceful  Front Of Pack racers have refined their skills so that it sometimes seems that they are not even racing at all, but just enjoying themselves.

You see this as a volunteer. If you learn from this it becomes part of your race prep.When you learn from this participation, your databank grows to way beyond your own race experience. It begins to include the experiences of all those around you. You can't get that from a book! Well, maybe you can, but it would have to be a really thick book, with lots of pictures and a bibliography.

The past few weeks have been a tough for being a volunteer. This is work in the trenches. Doing stuff that no one will notice, unless it doesn't go well, then everybody will notice. And stuff didn't go well. Curse you Interweb!

It has not involved setting up the race, but ensuring that everyone knows what is going on, where to register, how to pay, and all the administrivia that most only have to deal with once per race.

But I learned stuff. Through the comments and the complaints and the perseverance of those around me, working equally hard to get the races ready for the racers, I took multitasking to a new level. I learned how to dump my computer's cache, I learned what it feels like to miss a couple of training days in a row. I learned a few more choice swear words in txt messaging.

Most of all, I learned how to just get the job done. And I did get my job done.

And that is no different than on race day. You have to get from Point A to Point B (there could be many points if this is one of those new fangled point to point races, so don't nitpick!).

There will be obstacles in your way. Snow, cold, wind, waves flats, bonks, crashes, hills, blisters...the list is practically endless. You just need to HTFU and get it done, even if getting it done means cutting your losses and planning for the next race.

So. In a few days,  I will race in a local, minor, insignificant,  "C" race. This race always kicks my ass. But you can bet, I'll be there volunteering and setting up just before I set up my transition.

Why? Because volunteers helped make this race happen again this year. And if I want to have it kick my ass again next year, I'd better do everything I can do to make it a success.

I have no illusions about my athletic aspirations. I'm a Middle Of Pack kinda guy. I won't win and I don't need to win, but I do need to race.  Race karma doesn't care how or where I place. But I won't even have a chance to use my race karma if there is no race. So I volunteer and I increase race karma and I learn from race to race, regardless of whether I'm wearing the race bib or handing it out.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Cell phones on Race Day.

So they have passed this new law here.
Drivers can't talk on the phone or text while they drive. Not a bad idea. I've seen too many drivers - especially as a cyclist and runner - not even notice me because they where on their mobile devices, concentrating on where to find the @.

Although there are huge fines and demerit points for those that get caught, it is next to unenforceable other than at spot check kind of situations. I still think it is a good idea and will, eventually take hold like it has in some parts of Europe - not because it is illegal, but because it is just wrong to be holding a phone and driving.

But then there is the frustration. You know how locked doors only keep honest people out. Well. Every so often, I get a call or text while on the road. And it is really not possible to pull over and stop.

This happened today while I was driving with Second Born. I quickly recruited her into reading the text and answering. It worked really slick.

But as with all unrelated things this incident got me thinking about endurance sports and what draws me to the longer distances.

I'm an age grouper. I'm not aiming to podium or FOP and sometimes MOP turns into BOP. That is clear. But even though I wont likely jump to the Front Of the Pack, I'm still in these races to finish and to finish standing, upright, smiling and hopefully, at least a little, breathless.

In the car, I had Second Born do my work for me. In some shorter events, MOPs can just show up and race and be done. Training is secondary little work is really done. Someone else is really doing all the work at their races.

Don't get me wrong, the contenders in these races, even those cursed with balsa wood bones and lightening speed, train and train hard. Some, however, just do a little running and stuff a few weeks before the race and get by with that. And that's fine, but it is like making the destination the most important part of the journey.

Can't do that for an iron distance race. You just can't phone it in. You have to start training early, you have to train hard and you have to train smart. No one can do this for you.

If you show up unprepared, you will end up at the side of the road seeing the inside of your stomach convulsing in the open air right in front of your bulging eyes.

As for me, I like to finish races. I love to finish races, it means I can rest. The races themselves? Well...

What motivates me is seeing my progress through the months of training. Pushing myself more and more every week, then resting. Then pushing harder.

The destination is not the race, the destination is what I can achieve through the training. The six hour solitary bike ride to nowhere and back is the journey that will get me there.

The four hour run - just to see if I can do it - is just one of the signposts. The soup├žon of chlorine on my skin is the tattoo.

I just signed up for a bunch of short races to prime my training as I work towards the Marathon and Ironman I have have planned this season.

I'm not looking forward to getting up even earlier to get in the training before my family misses me. But I am yearning for the euphoric jolt I get as the training takes hold and that quiet confidence fills me on race day.

I won't be phoning anything in, except maybe the news that I didn't drown when I call my mother after the race.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Deviant Triathletes

Recently, after a visit to the doctor and some conversations with athletic and non-athletic friends I started thinking a lot about deviance.

Now deviance is not anything new to me, I've leaned left centre and right of left and below the horizon in one way or another since I figured out what rules were. Others have called it going against the grain, or trendsetting, or even being an anarchist. It is all about being a unique individual, just like everyone else.

But having revelled in the danse macabre a few times, I prefer to look at the unsightly underbelly of zigging when the everyone else is zagging.

That's why I always visit pawn shops in every new town I find myself in, I like to see what is being traded just below the surface of polite society.

This is where the deviants used to swim. Increasingly though, there has been a sea change of what is normal and what is not.

One definition of deviant is: One that differs from a norm, especially a person whose behaviour and attitudes differ from accepted social standards.

This definition got me thinking about triathletes, especially Iron ones and other endurance athletes.

Where I live I'm surrounded by endurance athletes and Iron folk. I know dozens of them. The training and the dedication and the commitment to this kind of lifestyle is normal in this group.

But take one sidestep into polite society - at work or with extended family and, all of a sudden, I become the sideshow freak; the fodder for conversation and the source of disbelief as I go swimming at lunch time, instead of visiting the buffet.

In the news media and the popular infotainment media we are starting to get more images of people doing extreme things - including endurance sports. From basejumping to extreme surfing, tv viewers are seeing images of people engaged in untraditional activities in High Def. Swimming and biking and running - especially in lava fields is high on the list of these extremities.

Meanwhile, these same news and infotainment medias are also demonstrating how normal people are choosing to live and behave. Think Biggest Loser or the countless reports of obesity and the unbelievable wealth of the diet/weightloss industry.

Every day a new report seems to be published claiming that one ailment or another is caused by sitting too much or watching too much TV or eating any processed food.

It seems, in my little oxygen deprived mind, that the new normal is the couch sitting, tv watching, binge exercising, overworking, sleep deprived, crap consuming set.

Think of ten friends. How many of them engage in an active, non-sedentary lifestyle?  Think of those that do. It's easy to consider them as freaks when you hear that they get up at five a.m. to run, or swim on a Sunday night or go for a regular walk after dinner.

This brings me back to triathletes. A triathlete does stuff to the extreme. Not one sport, but three. Not one hour a day of exercise but two or four or more!

They eat strange stuff - gels and powdery concoctions and some even cook whole foods from scratch and eschew processed, fried calories from unknown sources.

And the clothes. Well. Every kink has to have a uniform. This one goes from head to toe compressing skin, showing bare bodies, making everything aerodynamic and covering up with colours that may not necessarily appear in nature.

And although triathletes are often solitary and choose to engage in their passion alone, they often come together to compete, to compare training, to purchase new stuff,  and occasionally to mate.

Does this not meet the definition of deviant listed above?

So the conversation with the doctor alluded to above was something like "you have very low BP and heart rate. At your age, I would expect to see you getting older, not younger. It isn't really normal. Do you exercise a lot?" 

So this is how my personal deviance has evolved from its anarchistic roots. There are far more destructive fetishes out there.

Now where did I put those day-glow orange Newton shoes and compression stockings?

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Put your ear down close to your sole and listen hard.

I've had a bit of a shoe fetish lately.

Let me explain. I'm at a bit of a crossroad. My beloved NB 768s were "upstyled" with the 769s that just don't fit my wide feet - unless I go to a size that would make Bozo proud

Getting the right shoes has been a bit of an evolution for me. The first "running" shoes that were recommended to me and that I bought when I first started running for distance five years ago were a scary pair of motion control Frankenstein Boots that I wore for maybe two months before realizing that, just because I was "big boned", didn't mean my feet should be nailed to the ground. 

Since that time, I've stuck with one brand and traded off their relative heaviness and homeliness for the wide comfort and reliability they provided. 

It was a couple of months before Ironman Canada last year that I learned of the style and last change in the 768s. I scrambled and found a pair before they were all gone.  

I knew that I would have to start looking for new shoes eventually. This was also, ironically, about that time that I started to develop very tight calves and plantar fasciitis-like symptoms. And to think I've always respected Mr. Peanut. In hindsight, (and from looking at my big butt in the mirror) I think the leg/foot problems originated from a carrying a little too much extra weight.

At the advice of some and the horror of others,  I picked up a pair of Newton guidance trainers at the tradeshow at Ironman Canada in Penticton. Unlike many Newton noobs that I was amazed to look at, broken down at the side of the run course clutching their calves or nursing blisters, I did not wear my new shoes for the race. Nor did I  touch them until IMC was long done and over. 

If you are looking for a review, you won't find it here. Nor will you find a lengthy discussion of the merits of forefoot, midfoot or barefoot running. Although I have wasted many hours reading others' blogs, reports, articles and diatribes on the subject. I think I even had a few naughty dreams that involved thigh-high vibrams, but I digress.

I did start wearing the Newtons - but only indoors - treadmill and track. In the wintry outdoors I'm still wearing my last pair of  the 768s, as I still have a few hundred kms left in them. 

During all this experimentation, I have changed how I run. I wasn't a heel striker before, but I've moved even more of my efforts further to the front on my foot - probably the reason I'm still getting tight calves. 

One of most interesting experiments was running barefoot on the treadmill where I found that I was naturally favouring the front part of my foot - as I had been intellectually favouring with the fancy shoe technology. 
One word of advice to others who want to try this: The blisters start forming after 20 minutes of constant running. 

Everyone should try barefoot running, by the way. It is like running like a kid again. Golf course, beach, treadmill or track...anywhere you won't find glass, nails, snow, ice or lit cigarette butts is good.                                                    But I can't remain a podianudist. I have to start thinking about shoes. I have my first half marathon of the season in April and will be attempting my first ever marathon in late May - yes I ran the marathon in several IMs but that doesn't count does it?

I'll have to wait until the snow melts before I can get some serious distance on my Newtons before I make a decision on them. But I'll have to look at some other options. I hear that there might be a few other shoe companies out there that make shoes for wide feet. Maybe Newtons will be what I go with it is too early to tell.

In the process, my calves need to relax a little and Mr. Plantars Peanut has to get the hell out of my right foot and ankle. 

The snow melt is coming soon and the running mileage is beginning to ramp up. I'm looking deep into my soul, as Anne Sexton advised, and trying to listen to what my feet are telling me. Will this year be year that I evolve into more than just a triathlete who runs...

Saturday, 30 January 2010

What I learned from zombies

So, what is it about zombies. I don't mean why are they more popular now than Michael Jackson. What I mean is what is it about their unrelenting need for brains? They just keep going in their dumbfounded, determined mummy-from-the-crypt-like swagger “brains…brains!”

I was thinking about this a few days back when I found myself unable to train. I couldn’t make the time. I realized that the swim and the run I had planned would have to be scrapped.

I wandered through the day purposeless and without direction. Sure, I got the day-to-day stuff done, even finished a couple of important projects. But the whole day, I just dragged my feet. “Train…train!” Not quite busting through doors as a zombie would, but looking for any possibility to make the time to get my fix of endorphins.

That’s when I figured out zombies – other than their affinity for Michael Jackson videos. They too have found what they crave. They've found what keeps them alive and what gives them their baseline for the day.

Training is my baseline. Sure races are a thrill and I do prepare for them and look forward eagerly their way…sometimes. But the constant, the baseline, the soundtrack of my daily life – apart from family and work and friends - is the training and the focus and structure it creates.

So maybe zombies are on to something. Maybe Baron Samedi was right. Live and let live…but keep training!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Finding my happy pace

Sometimes, sitting and looking back from the vantage point of four years of increasingly more demanding run training, feel like I'll never be more than a middle distance runner.

I have spent many hours analyzing run splits and heart rate data and pace. Always looking at my pace. Always trying to reconcile the fact that I ain't going to do a 50 min 10k  or a 1:40 half if I'm averaging a 6 min/km pace.

I reconciled myself by thinking about all the time and effort that happily goes into family and work and the important relationships in my life. I grudgingly acknowledged that the overindulgence in certain vices including food may be keeping me from the leanness required to run fast and long. I even fall back to the old excuse that my body type may have been more suited for rugby or shot put or perhaps, philosophy.

But then putting on my balaclava and layers of black ninja clothing, I head outdoors into the night air and I forget everything. 

And find what I forgot.

I cut through the evening streets and then onto the bike path, like I was meant to do this my whole life. 
There is a GPS computer around my wrist but, for this moment,  I just don't care what it is calculating. 
The sounds of other people's raves fill my ears and build an evolving soundtrack to the sparks and sagas that ignite and swirl and dissipate in a reawakened consciousness.

Familiar dogs sniff my air approvingly, while their walkers recognize my red strobe flash and ninja garb and smile as I lope by.
Sweat percolates on my forehead and is brushed aside by my ever-present foil, the wind, that tests and teases me from behind every shrub and snowbank. 
I wind my way out and back on the path over bridges, along banked turns, through snow dunes and, ever so gingerly, over sheet ice. 
With every step, I remember what I forgot. 
A diurnal somnambulist, the dark, cold air reawakens and reinvigorates that which is eternal within me.
And then...just then, I find my perfect pace...not measured in time or distance but in all dimensions at once.

Exiting the outdoors and into the heated indoors, I remember, albeit briefly, why I run and bike and swim and sometimes combine the three. 

I also realize that the bytes stored on my GPS watch are not just run data, they draw a map of where I have been. 

They are my touchstone to get me closer to my happy pace...the perfect pace that transcends time and space.