Monday, 30 December 2013

The Return of the 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.


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!