Thursday, 24 March 2011

Choosing Wisely

This is the year that I was taking it easy. To me that means I will not be doing an Ironman. Instead, I have found myself registered for two half marathons within a week of each other, a sprint and an olympic triathlon, a half iron distance triathlon and a marathon.

Taking it easy indeed. There are several other off-road/Xterra-type races I'd like to tri and I was hoping this was the year that I would break out into Ultra running and significantly more trail running.

It is nearly the end of March, there is still snow and ice on the ground. It is still too cold to not run without gloves. And to add insult to injury, I'm still futzing around with Plantar Faciitis, although I've read the condition  might actually be called Faciotis. This is interesting in that I have a cousin Faciotis. The difference from what I can understand is that one is inflammation, and the other is more permanent buildup.

My Greek ancestry aside, I've now committed to seeing professionals. Plenty of appointments to RMTs and a crackerjack podiatrist and, soon, a top rung sports physio for a gait analysis and all the other poking and prodding that will be necessary. Prior to my first appointment with the foot guy, I was resigned to the fact that I would have to stop running...again. But as I did that previously and it had no effect, he agreed that a different course might be appropriate and to be selective with the quantity and quality of running I do.

I have just returned from St. George, Utah, where I biked more than 600 km and ran no more that 17k. My foot felt great while I ran and while I cycled and while I rested. It felt like I was walking on sharp rocks after the 23hr journey back into this wintry abyss.

I'm at a crossroads here about what I will do next. Much depends on the what the top rung sports physio will say. Will I run more? I can't run any less.

One thing is for certain. My trip down to Utah nourished me both spiritually (yes, I'm aware of the irony) and physically. I feel stronger and more confident than I have felt for a long time, especially on the bike.

The trip organizers put together the right mix of work, challenge and fun. I think I'm ready for anything during this "easy" year.

I just have to remind myself that my training transcends the race course and will help me walk past the sharp little rocks that are now underfoot. 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

What strange world is this?

Photo: Sean Kukura
A few days ago, I was in a large, white Ford van hurtling across the highway is such whiteout conditions that we were all thinking a postponement or an extreme deviation in course. The driver too, with more experience behind the wheel than all the passengers combined, held that steering yoke tightly, as if, all we had to do is climb above the storm and we would be safe. 
The gamble paid off, as we turned south, towards where gambling is more a way of life.
The journey lasted roughly 23 hours. Through the night we flew, as the white granules gave way to grey skies and they too faded to an inky darkness that even the large trucks did not dare pierce.
Still, we forged ahead, leaving the blankets of snow, and finding in its place lone beacons in the dark that turned out to be lonely gas stations, Arby's, and the cleanest, most incredible highway toilets in which I've ever had the pleasure to share my journey. 

Then, out of the darkness, the hills rose to meet the sky, as if they helped put the sun in its place. These were not the same hills to which I've grown accustomed in Alberta and British Columbia.
They looked and smelled and felt different. Not as majestic, not as aweful, but so much more patient, as if they had seen generations of humanity grow and thrive and live and preach and fallout  and die in their caves, nooks and crevasses.

These hills also spoke to me of an Indian culture much maligned, marginalized and paved over, but just as loud and obvious as the Celtic echoes that I've heard in the rolling, misty hills a continent and an ocean away.

But I did not travel here to look at hills, rather I subjected myself to that long car ride, so that I could subject myself to many long bike rides through these very same hills. My hope, in this offseason, was to challenge my riding skills earlier in the year with steep climbs, chilling descents and no chilling weather. Four days into the trip, I have not been disappointed. There were six of us, three Ironmen, two newbies, but talented riders and one Cat 3 bike rider and seasoned cyclist.
We still have cheesy grins from the riding experiences that we have experienced. Climbs so steep that I questioned what I'm doing on a bike at all. The descents were so fast that I rethought my belief that I was any good at descending. And the countryside was so wide open that I challenged the whole concept of the prairie's great big skies. The canyons and mountains were not so much barriers to the view as they were red sanded switchbacks to heretofore unseen vistas.
I still have much more to muse about, but I am still absorbing and soaking in everything I have seen, felt and inspired. There is a different air here, a different wind. It is a strange world on which I cannot put my stamp.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

One Day More

If I could bottle and sell the excitement and apprehension-flavoured energy felt the day before leaving home for a big race, I know I'd make a small fortune. I still feel this energy after three trips to the show...well, not the big show in Kona, but the other show in Penticton, that is close to Kelowna, which rhymes with Kona, ironically.

In previous seasons, as I would pack my race kit and plan for the trip either cross town or cross country, I would sing to myself: "One Day More!"

That musical, the only musical that I really liked and that was introduced to me by my First Wife, begins with the protagonist's stealing of bread and his struggles long after that single event...If you think about it, Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo's work is just trying to get some quality carbs. Is that so different from what the triathlete seeks?

One day more! Everything changes for that one day...before it changes back, as if it never happend.

This year, I haven't really felt this energy. It could be because I resigned myself to some shorter efforts and a few running races. I did have my first multisport race of the season last week -- an aquathlon, but before the race, I just didn't feel "it".

Don't get me wrong. I had a great time. I was surrounded by friends, especially a distinguished athlete from out of town and her husband. I was also happy my first wife was also in my corner counting laps and threatening that I'd better go faster - especially during the transition.  Nice.

Still struggling with Plantar fascists, as I call it, my running mileage has been way down. I entered into the race without any preconceived goals. I set a very conservative swim time, which I beat by 10 seconds, despite being headbutted within 20 strokes of the start by an errant idiot swimming the wrong way in the wrong lane.

I never pushed during the swim, I drafted for the most part and passed on the bulkheads whenever the opportunity afforded me, must have passed about eight people this way.  No stress. I was at peace for the whole 745 metres (5 metres were used up trying to figure out if I had a concussion).
Photo by First Wife
Photo by Paul Cutting
The run,  too,  started conservatively. As I proceeded through the 25 laps, I got stronger and more comfortable. JM caught me in the last kilometre. He and I used to run together. Those were some of the happiest training days I ever had. He too is coming off an extended injury-recovery period. But we had a fantastic sprint-like last kilometre. He really pushed me, like he used to and it was the best part of the race. I can't remember much other than him passing me, me passing back and everything on the periphary of the indoor track being a bit of a blurr - except lapcounting First Wife urging that I'd better move my ass!

But, still. One Day More.

Tomorrow I leave for Utah. I'm going on a road cycling trip on the St. George Ironman course. I'm traveling with friends who run a start-up adventure company called It will be a 23-hour drive through the winter and into the spring as we travel to a different country, a different climate and ecosystem, and a different world. I'm just a little giddy.

This is the break that I think I need to re-energize me. I will drink deep from this experience as I bike OUTDOORS!!! and run and swim and hike through  Zion National Park.

Of course, when I return to work, to my family, to my life, nothing will really be different. But just as after my sojourns to the (other) big shows, I will be just a little changed and my perspective will have an entirely new landscape to consider. 

One more day before the day more! Let's see how much life is left in this old soul.