Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Nostalgia and getting faster as time runs out.

Just after my first Ironman in 2008 with the mentor who got me through it.
I'm feeling a little sad and somewhat nostalgic. It took me a little time to figure out why. Ironman Canada is on August 28th in Penticton, British Columbia. For the first time in four years, I won't be making the trek (some have called it a pilgrimage) out to watch or to race or to register.

I  won't be making the trip, not because I'm injured. I was fine when I finished IM #3 last year. I didn't re-register because it was time for a change. I wanted to try something else for a while (I guess I got what I wished for!).

Of course it didn't help that the World Triathlon Corporation's strategies and initiatives made the whole event more about extracting increasing sums of money from the amateurs and promoting the professional athletes (in 2009, WTC purchased a number of Ironman franchises from North American Sports - the owner of Ironman Canada. WTC is owned by Providence Equity Securities). The idea of waiting in line, in the sun, before race day, to pay more than $600 US more than a year in advance to race (let's call it an interest-free loan, perhaps?) just rubbed me the wrong way. But I digress.

I am still feeling a little bit of a loss for not being there to soak up the energy of, in my opinion,  the best sports experience anywhere. It is the setting, the volunteers, the racers...I've found myself being a little listless over the past couple of weeks. I've not ridden my tri bike and have all but given up on swimming. I suppose this is how I'm dealing with the sense of loss...or passage.

I have a number of friends taking part in this race at the end of August. I will be racing vicariously through them (you know who you are!)  and watching the event online...if the feed works this year. This is still a great race and my best wishes to you!

But as I decided on that sunny day in August 2010, in the athlete village in Penticton when I saw the 2011 race sign-up line snake around the entire length of the grounds...it was time for a change.

So I got what I asked for. A change. A totally unexpected turn of events where the very foundation of everything I wanted to do was pulled out from under me, as it were. And I was forced to cool my heels...

But along with this unwelcome surprise came a number of unexpected blessings.  I spent more time with my family and learned to do the things they liked to do, as they learned what I liked and much coffee was enjoyed.

I had the absolute privilege and pleasure to introduce my partner to a wonderful man, his partner and his family and to spend a week in their company doing everything and doing nothing. Ironically the sign above is from one of the sojourns we took where they introduced us to a part of the world I had never before seen.

I took the time to really enjoy mornings. I used to be so focused on running out the door and getting a few KMs or more in...not this summer. Instead, I lounged on the verandah and learned how to loaf, hang out with the squirrel and how to appreciate the little things, such as a good cup of coffee or a tasty walnut.

But what really made an impression on me was a chalk board sign that I encountered at a local folk festival. My partner and I usually like to walk downtown and soak in Patchouli infused Birkenstock wearing ambiance of the festival during the day, before the headliners show up. It really is a good experience.

As we walked through Victoria Park,  there it was, a huge chalkboard sign made up of a number of classroom-sized chalk boards. On each of the boards were the words: "BEFORE I DIE I WANT TO ..." and then a blank line to fill in one's wish.

The boards were full. They had everything from the earnest to the nonsensical. Things like "see my grandma again" to "beat cancer". This was like a wishing well where there are no secrets. It really got me thinking about what I would would to do, before I die.

So I thought, and I thought. I stole some surreptitious glances at my partner, who's hand I held increasingly tighter. I thought about my kids, I thought about some of my good friends, both new and old.

I thought about my foot and the injury that isn't going away, but is lingering, seemingly just to make a point. I thought about the recuperation and physical therapy that is demonstrating how fast I can run, and also how little a should run. It is an injury that seems to be urging me, as I get older, to hurry up and slow down so I can meander on the path less taken.

That's when I realized that I was doing exactly what I want to be doing before I die. Everything else is details.

Monday, 8 August 2011

The forest and the trees.

I thought that I should probably post some words since my last few entries were real downers. More of an update than anything else. It has been some time now since I parked my running shoes and took up an number of therapies that were supposed to help my Plantar Fasciitis. All but one have done very little to relieve the pain...I'm keeping the last one under wraps so as not to jinx it.

But I can see the forest and the trees. I have been running, first around the block, then around two blocks and now for just over 1.5kms. I've noticed something very interesting. I'm not pain-free by any stretch (no pun intended, but that reminds me that I have to stretch again). What's interesting is that I'm a running better, stronger, faster. Where I used to have a so-so six minute/km pace, I'm now regularly doing fives. And my run is smooth. I credit all the work I've done in physio. My personal torturer has begun to correct sloppy and mal-practiced form that took me years to perfect. Of course, I have no run endurance, and it is questionable if I'll be able to sustain such a pace over 5, 10 or 42.2kms - or even if I will get back to those distances. But I'm running. I'm feeling good about running. And I'm now only a bit jealous when I see others running much longer distances in the park.

I'm also back to doing bricks. I've rekindled my relationship with my 21year old, 12-speed,  steel road bike. My tri bike sits lonely in the basement.  I'm out doing some short (less than 60k), fast rides and then jumping into my Vibram 5 Fingers and running 1K or so. These bricks (bike-run intervals) feel like I'm back to training, but without the stress of an impending race. It feels good,  pain notwithstanding. And contrary to the advice of some, I have been spending more and more time barefoot.

A few weeks ago, I spent an incredible week with The One I Love and some great friends in Bruce County and Waterloo County, Ontario. While there, thanks to my favourite airline, we were stuck for four days without luggage. We did an easy trek through Lion's Head Provincial Park with me in Birkenstocks (as my trail shoes were in my absent baggage). The Birkenstocks quickly came off and I did a large part of the walk truly barefoot. It felt like I was floating on air, so liberating the feeling was!

So...looking ahead there are some positives. The PF has certainly not resolved, but I'm doing stuff that may or may not help. I've kinda sorta committed to a running thing a year from now that I'll write about later.

Sure, I DNS'd two triathlons and will not be participating in a marathon next month. But I had a rejuvenating week with new(ish) friends who will become old friends long before we get old. I also am having a great summer with family and I'm spending some time with my self, which is something that I must remember to do more often.  I'm gradually getting back into what I'm into.

I'm enjoying the beauty of the forest and the trees and I know, one day, sooner or later, I will easily run through that forest...just like Forrest.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Building a new mythology

Two DNS races have come and gone and I feel it is safe to dare to venture out of my self-imposed silence.

You see I was somewhat concerned that I was starting to whinge a little too much about how sore my foot was and how I was not getting to run or race.

Well. Nothing has really changed. Using the scale my physiotherapist uses, my pain level ranges between a 7 (out of 10) and a 2 (after a dram or six).

I skipped two races and a whole load of training. I just don't feel like waking up at 5 am to train right now and, frankly, I do feel kinda sorry for myself. And I've probably not been the best company of late.

So how is this not whinging and complaining? Well, I'm doing other stuff. Spending lots of time with the fruits of my loin and the love of my life. I re-shingled the garage roof, and cleaned out that garage making room for a mini new addition to the fleet.

I volunteered and was either a "captain" or a volunteer for two local races: See Dick and See Jane Tri For a Cure. For one of the races for which I DNS'd, Regina Beach Duathlon, I served as a race official and an uber volunteer, getting there at the crack of stupid to help set up the bike transition. The picture above was my reward. The sunrise picture is also a bit of a reminder for me that another way may be dawning for me. Or maybe not...it is a little cliché.

Some days I just want to rip my foot off and start over! But then I'm reminded of the parable of the man who complained that he had no hat until he met a man who had no head.
Paranoid Larry and his Imaginary Band "sing" about this way of thinking too.

But, I have moved passed this way of thinking. I am doing my prescribed physiotherapy exercises daily. I'm doing considerable self massage - sometimes enlisting the help of others - and I'm running. Yes, running. I'm only running around the block, mind you, but those 2.5 minutes are my favorite time of the day (other than the self massage with the enlisted help of others heretofore noted).

I was running for a minute at a time on the treadmill - wearing nothing but my bare feet, but that got quite dull and somewhat chaffed.

I did end up purchasing some Vibram Five Fingers. I wear them around the block. I have been wearing them a lot. In fact,  I wore them for the whole day of volunteering/officiating at the Regina Beach duathlon. Did they help my feet? How should I know? Nothing I've done so far has made any difference, but at least I am trying something. Between the massage and the overnight foot splint and the Birkenstock Sandal wearing and the stretching and the foot epsom baths and ice, ice and more ice and the OTC anti-inflammatories and,  of course the platypus sacrifices (I made that last one up - it was a cat) at least I feel like I'm doing something.

I thought it was about shoes, but it really wasn't. 

I thought it was about triathlon and training, but it really wasn't. 

I thought it was about keeping fit and not ballooning to 270 pounds again, but that wasn't it either. 

What is it about? 

Who knows, I'm still in pain all the time. But I know this is a test of an entirely different kind that I just can't run or bike or swim or fake my way through. This is tapping my resolve, my sense of humour and my perseverance like they have never been tapped before. 

Once again, I'm on the outside. The side that I was on before I became an Ironman. The side of the little boy looking in the sweetie shop window liking his lips and fingering nothing more than one penny in his otherwise empty pockets.

Being on the outside suits me.
For now. 

I'm focusing on doing what needs to be done, rather than what I think I should do. I'm learning. I'm adjusting. I'm taking the time to hand wash and dry the new car. 

In so doing, I'm noticing the scratches and the dents and seeing how they reflect my position and the clichés and metaphors with which I have surrounded myself. Perhaps this is about building a new personal mythology?

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Shalom, Aloha, Start your Engines for Plan B.

Last weekend, after spending six days without running once, I found myself responsible for leading a group of about 50 elementary school kids in a 3K community run. Of course, I had no intention of running, but a couple of the grade threes took off at a four minute pace and I had to keep up. This run was on city streets, that although controlloed by police, there was still traffic moving...so off I went. Running faster than I have for months. 
Later that day and throughout the evening the pain in my right heel that I had managed to mollify somewhat, returned with a vengeance. It was at that point that I started thinking about surrendering to the pain. 
Up until this point, and on the advice of the crackerjacks, I was still running. My mileage was way down, but I was still going out and logging a few kilometers. The new, intense pain made me think differently. If you have ever had a bladder infection, or an anal fissure or a bad case of asthma or strep throat, you will understand how I felt. Something as basic and fundamental and natural as peeing or shitting or breathing or swallowing suddenly becomes so painful, that you don't want to do it. You do everything you can to avoid it.  That's what walking had become. 

Running wasn't a problem. I run on my forefoot. It was the stopping, the starting and everything before and after any run. Running has become so natural to me. But I was afraid of doing it. 

An appointment with the physiotherapist the next day confirmed that I should not race my upcoming half ironman-distance race in early July, nor the Olympic (Standard) distance race the week later. And perhaps the Marathon planned for September was iffy. 

Instead, I should focus on running for one minute, barefoot on the treadmill, or grass or sand. And build up SLOWLY from there. Also, to correct the slight issues with my form, I was given a bunch of other exercises, including toe/leg raises on stairs and lunges and modified squats. I toyed with the idea of running barefoot and naked on the treadmill, but, like naked beach volleyball, certain laws of physics do not agree well with a lack of bodily compression...nuff said.

The idea of running barefoot is to allow the fascia in the foot/heel to gradually become re-accustomed to the stress I'm putting on them. Although my PT is not a forefoot running proponent, per se, looking at the wear pattern of my runners, she questioned why I even wear stability shoes...maybe neutral shoes or even something more minimal would be appropriate?

I haven't quite bought into that, but she helped me formalize me decision. I was preparing to be DFL, but now I was to be DNS. Contrary to a good friend's advice, I wasn't willing to just do a bit of the race and DNF. I  considered his advice, but I just couldn't justify the expense of traveling to a race (and spending over $600) for a race that I knew I would not be finishing. For some who have never completed a race, I can see the courage and the merit of that. I've had a personal best in this race, I've done an Ironman, or three. There would be no honor or pride. Although I will miss the exceptional organization and goodwill of this particular race.

So it is not an overstatement to say that once I made this decision I became somewhat melancholic. I have never DNS'd before. And my whole season was evaporating right in front of me. And no, I was not really heading the conclusion of my previous blog. 

But as the week progressed, I was forced to get to work by bike (my vehicle exhausted it's last cough). I also decided to swim a little and I swam a lot. I also just grabbed my bike and rode after dinner, something I don't do normally. 
Then I got to thinking about this checkered flag I was waving. Sure it heralds the end of the race. But was it really a white flag  (with black squares) or a black flag with white squares? A white flag means surrender, but a black flag is a symbol of anarchy! What I have been going through lately has been quite anarchistic.

I have to return to the beginning. This is a great chance to look at the fundamentals. To get stronger and maybe, hopefully,  to rise above these setbacks and comeback better, faster and wiser than before. 

In Hebrew, Shalom  means peace, completeness, and welfare. It can also mean goodbye and hello! Similarly, Aloha, in the Hawaiian language can mean love, peace, compassion, mercy, as well as goodbye and hello.
Aloha can also mean the breath of life.
Ultimately, the goal of any triathlete might be to say Aloha to Kona at the world championship. I might still make it there one day. 

For the time being though, I'm starting my engine and getting back on the right foot - if I can - and more closely heeding the recent advice of Chuckie V. and looking closely at Plan B.

Aloha...and Shalom.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Foot Shy

I've had problems with my heel. Sometimes it has felt like I had pins and needles in it. Other times it felt like I was walking on broken glass. I've written previously about the Plantar Fasciiotis self diagnosis. It has since been confirmed by a massage therapist, a podiatrist and a physiotherapist.

If you are asking why no GP or Osteo or other knife wielding MD...two words: refer all. Besides, my GP, who I really do respect was all about referring me to the professionals I sought out and found myself.

I have also undergone a number of treatments most of which were interesting and intriguing, none of which have done anything but make me feel like I'm doing something useful.

I may as well be warming blankets and boiling water. Or perhaps adding a few eyes of newt to my favourite morning beverage. It has been very discouraging. Further, it has reaffirmed my reluctance to seek professional help for something that is not broken, bleeding or requiring a biopsy.

Now don't misunderstand. I've had a lot of successes from RMTs - one person that I consider a good friend is an RMT. In fact, it was an RMT, who was also licensed as a chiropractor who got my neck working the day before my most recent Ironman Canada.

The physio pointed out some very cogent errors/inadequacies of my stride (which I'm working on by the way). The chiro pointed out how I need to relax my shoulders when I run - and told me how to do it.

The podiatrist showed me how to tape my foot and got me a good night splint to use.

All of these professionals are athletes themselves and understand what I have gone through. None of these professionals have really helped address my issue: the condition and the pain.

I have determined that this is stemming from my calf tightness - and partially because of how I run. (Thanks to the physio).

So I've tried a number of different remedies, some less orthodox than others. And although I feel somewhat disillusioned and mostly defeated, I remain eternally hopeful that one day I'll get out of bed and not hurt.

One unfortunate side effect of this constant heel pain has been the fact that I see to have become run shy. Much like trying to relax and "let go" in the company of others, I've found that I'm reluctant to create opportunities to go out and run. Every time a little obstacle presents itself - cold, wind, dirty laundry, making supper, re-run of Biggest Loser - I have used it as an excuse to not run. Further, I have also avoided running with others -- in fear of slowing them down.

This is completely new to me. Previously, I reveled in running in -30c. I bragged about pushing through a windy morning run, I hoarded newspapers that I could use to stuff into my soaked runners.

Now? Not so much.

Keep in mind that I hurt...but not when I run. The crackerjacks (borrowing a word for medical people from the Cranky Princess) have all suggested that I should run. My own empirical evidence (taking two weeks off from running) demonstrated no tangible difference to the exquisite quality and quantity of pain.

Being a forefoot runner, I have no pain when I run. When I walk however, I look like a constipated John Wayne swaggering up to the bar, Pilgrim.

Being run shy has spilled over, as it were, to my other athletic pursuits. It has now become easier to avoid swimming: I'm too busy at lunch. Or swimming the distance I need to swim: I only have 30 minutes.

I've also not done the biking that I should be doing: it is too wet/windy/wicked out there.

With a Half Ironman one calendar month away, it really is time to move it into gear. I've toyed with the idea of just abandoning that race...and the Regina Beach Olympic distance Triathlon that is one week later...but then what? Do I also let go of the Marathon I'm hoping to run in September...where does it end?

Will taking time off heal me, or will it just heel me like a dog on a leash?

No. It is time. I know I have said this before. Time to get my shit together and start behaving like I actually enjoy this activity.

I have to force myself out of the support van/sag wagon and try to make June the month that I figure where or not I'm doing this, or whether I have to step back and try another strategy...or find another sport.

One of the implications of being run shy is that I have also been reluctant to write and spend time thinking about mytriangle.

So not only have I not missed out of the benefits of my endurance training, I have also not had the outlet I normally have of musing and writing about what I see hear and feel. This too will change.

How can it not change? I'm growing tired of this path of restless false starts and the barren landscape of the DNS lifestyle.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Not waving, but running.

In my formative years, I spent a lot of time reading.

I spent a lot of time with words, mostly those written by what could be considered as part of the Western Civilization canon, but also some other writing with a less familiar, more esoteric (read eastern) nascence. And I did so in several languages - some of which I can no longer remember.

There are a lot of those words and turns of phrases and images swimming around in my head and every so often, one or six pop out of me. The result is not unlike the experiences of a teenager rubbing up against something not altogether unpleasant. The expression from others is similar too.

Sometime after I "grew up", however, and started getting paid to write corporatese, I lost that voracious appetite for reading, absorbing and, occasionally ejaculating, as it were, these great thoughts I had synthesized from others.

One phrase, however stuck. It was from a poem I only noticed because my lover was reading it as part of an assignment a few years ago.

Not waving, but drowning.  I won't go into any analysis or discussion, of this work, or Stevie Smith. But the image has stuck with me. I assimilated it as I was taking up this new sport of triathlon and trying to balance young family and jobs. Maybe that is why is resonated with me.

I pictured myself, at times, in the middle of a the sea,  not quite sure if I was waving back to those on the beach or trying to get their attention.

Well, I didn't drown.

I didn't get a DNS or a DNF (Did Not Start/Finish) but I did get a DND - Did Not Drown on my way to my Iron goals that I met thrice.

Still. I find myself in an unsure gesticulation.

Injured and annoyed by it, I have chronicled my attempt to get back on track (while avoiding the track and trying to spend time on the trail.)

Running beside from friends from Western Cycle in -7C on April 17, 2011.
This past Sunday, I entered and ran in the Regina Police Service Half Marathon. I ran this race many years ago as my first ever half. I still use it as a touchstone of where I am physically and mentally.

I have run it in more than 2:37 hours and less than 1:58.
Here is a link to my race report for a more technical, less introspective analysis.

I did try to run it at 1:45 last year, but a very bad flu the week before caught up with me halfway in the race and the wheels came off at 14k, even though I was very much on pace.

This year, injured, tired, and a little fed up, I ran this race just because. Just to see what I can do with very little training. I ran it in 2:07 and change. Not amazing. But I was expecting to take 2:20 something. It is interesting that this race was the day before a world record setting Boston Marathon, in which a number of friends competed very successfully.

Photo Credit Paul Cutting
What is amazing is that I ran completely with myself.

I listened to my body.

There were times I told it to HTFU or to STFU. Other times, I yielded and stopped to pee.

But I was at peace during this run. I was in control. The pain in my heel was there. The burning in my calf was manageable and predictable. The increase and decreases of pace came when I requested them.

I didn't stress when I was passed. And I didn't revel when I passed.

The little voices in my head kept me company and distracted me, rather than discouraging me, as they used to.

This was a good run.
This was a great race.  I became one with my body and made peace with my running demons. 

I won the only race that was important to me. 

Friday, 8 April 2011

It's time.

This morning, I scraped ice of my car's windscreen and marvelled at the gossamer-thin shavings of ice. So delicate that a single breath with melt them in mid air as they blew away. In my had, it felt like the must luxurious fabric that disappeared into tiny water drops the moment I blinked.

Then I wondered why I was driving still to work. Why was I not yet on my bike? A few short weeks ago I was living the life of a full time cyclist in St. George, Utah. Everything I did was centred around the bike ride. The eating, the lounging, the washing, the blogging and even the Facebooking. It was all about ride that day, or the one that would be the following day.

Then I returned home. the more than 600 km of riding the highways of southwest Utah became no more than a memory of red rock, smiling faces and Veyo Pies.

It was easy to fall back into the old ways - the ways that I've relearned during this easy year of making excuses and making allowances for my aching foot.

It has been easy. Possibly, it has been the worst winter I've ever experience in my almost two decades on the prairies. It is not that it has been colder than ever...it was just always cold and windy and just gross. Spring was shown itself to be no different. Second week of April and it is still just gross and cold and windy.

In previous years, with an Ironman as a motivator,  I had no problem fighting through this inertia. It was a case of train now or show up for the race and experience even more unnecessary pain.

Out the window right now,  the morning sun has gone into hiding behind thick cloud. and it is cold again. Mind you "April cold, not January cold", it is all relative.

But it is time.

It is time to break out the commuting bike. It is time to ramp up the mileage on the run. It is time to spend more time in the pool. It is time to get back on the highway with the Dirty Girl!

It is time to rip open this Jamaican coffee that I've been saving, because it, like me, isn't getting any better just sitting around in a burlap bag.

Why? Well, it isn't really because I have lots of "little" races coming quickly in this "easy" year of mine.

It is because I've seen this pattern of slippage before. In an earlier life, years went by before I even acknowledged the unstoppable slide into decrepitude, the slide into someone that I never want to be again.

That is not a place I want to even visit again. The pain in my foot, the crappy weather, the lame excuses. They really are nothing more than a way to avoid returning to the race. Not any particular race. The race that has no start or finish line. The race that has no competitors and no spectators and no volunteers.

This is a race that has no medals at the end, no technical shirt or other swag and no food along the way. This is a race that finds you in a corridor of doors and mirrors. It is full of choice. But when you sit down and ponder...you still have to look at yourself and where you are. I have to. I have to figure out where to put my focus lest I return to my previous state of cosmopsis.

I find it very interesting that at this date exactly last year I was musing the same thoughts, albeit with a much more positive outlook. Even the theme of that blog was the same "Is it time yet?"

Maybe it is a cyclical thing. Maybe I require a certain amount of natural lumens from the sun before I can kick myself into action. Time will tell. Time will come Time will pass.

It's time.

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 sportstogo.ca. 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 storm...one day more! Let's see how much life is left in this old soul.

Friday, 18 February 2011

What I've learned from squirrels.

Growing up in an immigrant family in a bigger Canadian city, I didn't get to see a lot of wildlife. Other   than the occasional trip to a petting zoo or Parc Safari, my occasional companions on my long adolescent walks were stray cats and meandering dogs, pigeons, seagulls and gray squirrels.
At that time I had quite the affinity for seagulls.

First of all they could fly. And I always wanted to fly. In fact I wanted to fly so badly, that one year, I didn't say the word "Super" as in Superman for an entire month in hopes that the powers of Krypton would somehow radiate down to me and give me that ability.

Some years later, when studying physics, I became quite disillusioned and disgusted by superhero flight when I could not reconcile the abilities of levitation and propulsion with the extant gravitational forces of the Earth.

Still, some of my most favourite and happy dreams still involve flight, but it is anything but effortless, I have to start flapping and only then, do I achieve lift. But I digress.

Secondly, seagulls reminded me of the sea, of the ocean and of large bodies of water. I know that somehow my roots are in water and I must make a pilgrimage back to that vast expanse every few years to regenerate and recentre myself.

Thirdly, seagulls reminded me of a favourite vacation I had, on the seaside at Old Orchard Beach. This was the family vacation that I think of when I try to remember good memories with my father and mother.

Lastly, the story of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and later, the movie, created indelible ways of looking at myself, my potential and the world around me.

But when I wasn't trying to fly, there were squirrels.

They were everywhere. They were wild, but they were friendly, not like pigeons. They didn't run away, but wearily tolerated people and often lived side by side. And they didn't have all the baggage that dogs bring or the attitudes brandished by cats.

There was a boy, Trevor P. who had a pet squirrel. I'm trying to remember the squirrel's name. But this squirrel lived in Trevor's house. He was gentle and smarter than a dog - the squirrel, not Trevor. I always saw that squirrel as free, but he always stayed close to Trevor. One day he died. I think he got run over by a car. That's the last I ever thought of that squirrel until now.

I've been in a relationship with a squirrel  for about six years. Her name is Nutty Rodante. My daughter gave her a first name. The last name is from me and it is a convoluted nod to both a favourite radio play and to someone with whom I spent several of my formative years.

Girl squirrel, how would I know, you are asking? She has teats and has a yearly litter. Nuff said.

So Nutty has lived a parallel life to mine for a number of years. Sometimes she visits everyday, other times I don't see her for months on end. Sometimes I meet her new brood, and other times I don't. Several years ago she introduced me to Miss Nutella, her daughter. I haven't seen Nutella  in several years. Last year Nutty introduced me to the triplets. Before the snows came, there were only two. Traffic is cruel like that.

But Nutty continues to thrive. I rarely see her when it is -40C, but every so often, especially as it warms up, she pops out and sits at the window and clicks for nuts. And she comes scampering when she hears the front or the side screen door.

Nutty prefers walnuts, but she'll settle for almonds. The doesn't overly like peanuts and she turns her nose up at pumpkin seeds, berries and my favourite granola mix, Choo-It.

Last year, Nutty started a Facebook page, with a little help from her friends. She has social network friends in more diverse places than I do. I help her with the pictures, but she gets others to help with her status updates. I understand that Nutty has also sent a video into to America's Funniest Home videos, although I don't really think anything will come of that. Canadian content doesn't often make it down south.

But Nutty is still very much a wild squirrel. She is as friendly as she wants to be. She doesn't tolerate abrasive strangers and she has a routine to which she likes to keep.

The lifespan of Grey Squirrels, I understand can stretch to 20 years, but is usually about 5 years - if they make it past the first year! Their lives can be nasty, brutish and short, but I hope that I have contributed to her quality of life, even a little. My neighbours don't really like the idea of a friendly squirrel, as they look at their attics uneasily. Neighborhood dogs, of course, go OUT-OF-THEIR-MINDS. And cats? They are afraid of Nutty.

But Nutty is growing long in the tooth. Every time I don't see her for an extended period, I wonder if she is on a trip somewhere, or if she has gone on to that final sojourn. I've learned a lot about life from this squirrel. It has taken me some time to realize it, but every interaction with her reminds me of this, even as I realize that it could be our last.
  • Don't assume that the people around you notice what you've done, they usually wont.
  • Get lots of exercise, you never know when you might have to sprint up a tree.
  • Always create options and alternatives, you may never need them, but you often will.
  • Don't eat just anything. Take the time to be choosy and you will live long and healthily.
  • Don't eat everything all at once, always stash a little food for later, you may get hungry.
  • Trust strangers to a point, and know that all friends were once strangers too.
  • Trust friends completely, but know, that sometimes, friends may break your heart.
  • Cars, no matter how fancy, are just oily, tasteless metal husks. Useful, but often not worth the hype.
  • A run through the park will cheer up even the darkest of moods.
  • Keep civil relations with all neighbours -- the ones that want to eat you may share a common enemy.
  • Groom your fur often and keep your nails and digits healthy. 
  • Realize that not everything is always what it may seem.
  • Never go too far for too long from your tree, you may become lost without it.
  • Be kind and respectful to those around you, no matter how small and voiceless. 
  • Do what you are good at and learn to love it, everything else will follow. 
  • Take the time to smell the flowers and reflect, you never know what the future will bring. 

Monday, 14 February 2011

Chicks with sticks and lads with lances.

One of the responsibilities of being a parent who encourages one's children to engage in healthy, sport-filled activities is that, occasionally, the parent must volunteer for events for that child's sporty activities.
This past weekend, the parents of several children found themselves volunteering for 9 hours at a track and field meet.

Now I use the term "volunteering" somewhat loosely. Showing up and helping is mandatory for all parents. Oh, and I use the term "helping" somewhat loosely too, because what is involved is usualy more akin to hard labour than answering telethon telephones.

At previous track meets, I have found myself holding a gun, pointing it at the roof and threatening to use it if someone crosses the very real line in the sand too early. The labour part of that otherwise glamorous, wildwest-style sojourn involved picking up, moving and setting up hurdles. Then taking them all away. I'm not quite sure why they don't just schedule the hurdles at the end of the day, but I'm more the type to shoot first and ask questions later.

On another occasion, I was given a clipboard and asked to herd small children who are encouraged to jump into a sand pit. I had to sequence their jumping by age, last name and past performance. Oh, and then I had to rake the sand, just for good measure - or perhaps better measure.

Then there was the time I was given a pylon and told to place it in front of the bar after every unsuccessful high jump. Easy eh? Try doing it 675 times.

Thankfully, with indoor track and field meets, I have yet had the pleasure of encountering javelin catching or discus retrieving, but I'm sure that too will come. No, this weekend I had the rare pleasure of volunteering - and becoming a Level 1 official, I'm told, of a sport whose nascence must have involved using long, straight branches to leap over obstacles in the jungle. Either that or some hardcore X-treme high jumpers bet each other over who can jump highest with an old javelin. Sort of like three dudes in Hawaii betting each other who's sport was more extreme.

So for nine hours, I had the rare plyometric pleasure of stepping on and off and on and off of the pole vault mats and hoisting the cross bar up with the aid of a specially jerry-rigged, worn out, duct-taped pole.

What was especially challenging was that my "station" was strategically positioned between the mat (and flying, plummeting and otherwise airborne poles and jumpers and the track. The track, as previously described had, not only runners, but people with guns and others who were  moving hurdles and waving flags and just generally being annoyingly efficient and active.

While doing my time, however, I did have the pleasure of seeing (and facilitating) a group of very healthy young men and women who hoisted poles 4, 5 and 6 feet longer than their bodies above their heads and then running with them faster than I can run at full tilt with the finish line in sight.

These chicks with sticks and lads with lances then would find a little space to plant their pole and, suddenly, they would be airborne. Almost in slow motion they would climb higher and higher only to cross over a thin threshold, and then, gracefully return to the ground triumphantly.

Or, they would hurtle through the air, arms and legs flailing and would plummet back down to Earth, displacing with them every movable and semi-static object.

There was one young man, who successfully made jump after jump after jump. At the very end, it wasn't that he couldn't clear the height. I'm sure he could have. He just couldn't hold the pole up any more. And by the second failed attempt, when he announced that he wasn't going to try his third attempt, he looked no different, than some of the athletes I've seen cross the finish line after a 13-hour swim, bike, run.

Experiencing this level of exhaustion amidst  triumph gave me some rare insight into the nature of commitment to sport. I have never really thought that much about one sport being harder or easier than another, but I've always harboured notions that triathlon took so much more effort than most other competitive sports.

It took this experience in volunteering to realize, in the midst of my own personal exhaustion from being on my feet and working for 9 hours, that the difficulty of any sport is directly related to the attitude, effort and intensity of the athlete. Sure, endurance events take a lot out of us. They bang up our bodies and challenge our wills. But so do other sports, if the athlete commits himself or herself completely to becoming as proficient and as excellent as s/he could be.

So too does any endevour - such as working or raising kids or helping ailing parents. It is the complete commitment to the activity that takes all the effort. Anyone can show up and get a t-shirt and and finishers medal. Believing in what you are doing and why you are doing it is what it is all about.

I worked for nine hours and had this epiphany.

My child sat for roughly the same time, waiting for a turn with the pole. He then proceeded to jump higher than he's ever jumped.

At a competition in a city 9 hours away from where I was, my other child used an entirely different stick to push a small ball into a square net. That child too gave everything and returned home exhausted and hoarse, both from the journey and from the experience.

I still have so much to learn about endurance, competition and what really goes into effort.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Days go by...time stands still.

So I'm now in the thick of the off season in the middle of a year that I am not pursuing any major events. Of course I'm already registered for the Great White North triathlon and the Queen City Marathon, the RPS Half Marathon and I'm considering the Gopher Attack...so, no major events. Sorta kinda...

I was doing a 750m time trial in the diving tank of the pool yesterday and thinking about races, and whether or not I will miss them if I don't register. Of course I'm doing the time trial because I'm considering a sprint aquathlon in March.

There is something you have to understand about doing laps in the deep tank of the pool. Usually, there are no ropes to calm the water. There seem to be more jets creating currents. And, of course, stopping and resting is considerably more complicated - especially since one can't stand and the bulkhead is a bit of a reach. All this makes for the closest thing to open water swim on this side of the of the outside.

So, I'm swimming in the deep tank thinking about the the Splash and Sprint - the adjacent picture is of me exiting (in the shallow end) of that race) - and I start to think about the relativity of time. This isn't too much of a stretch because, when I'm swimming, I can't really do any kind of math - how many laps I've done, how many back and forths equal 100 metres, what the hell those arrows on the swim clock mean?

Think about time passage in a race. Morning of the race,  time just seems to fly by...before you know it, you are already running late for getting to the site. Once you are there, however, things seem to go into slow motion. As if somehow time has been added to the clock - unless you forgot something, like to put on a wetsuit or go to the bathroom, and then time speeds faster than normal.

I've noticed the same phenomenon near the finish line. One km from that line, time blurs a little, as does distance. It seems that you have much more distance to travel, but with each stride or stroke, your pace surprises you. It is a much misunderstood phenomenon why people look at their watches at the finish line. It isn't because they want to know how well (or poorly) they did - it is because they are confused by what time their watches say and they are trying to synchronize it with the official race clock. Really!

But none of this is why I was thinking about time. I was thinking about what happens to time in the middle of the race. While you are halfway through the swim, or the bike ride. Or when you have just as much distance to run as you have already run. When you are far away from cameras and volunteers and spectators. Just your brain and that miscreant pile of flesh, bone and sinew that comes along for the ride. 

It is precisely at these moments when time somehow becomes infinite. You have no time to waste, but you have lots of time to spend. If you speed up you will have more, if you slow down you will have less. But you will only see how much you have saved or spent at the end of the race. Before that time you are floating...timelessly. There is is nothing but possibility,

The Dairy Queen I passed in Morden, MB
I remember doing on HIM and passing a Dairy Queen and thinking, I could just jump in for a Blizzard and I could still finish the race in good time. Now, part of that reasoning was fatigue-induced delirium, especially since I don't overly like Blizzards. But the point holds that time had become difficult to quantify.

It is a bit like walk breaks...It doesn't seem like you are taking up that much time when you walk during the run - until you look at your final time. While you are walking, it is as if time is infinite - that's why they feel so good, it almost seems like they are going on forever - until someone passes you, or some "friend" sees you and yells at you to "move your fat ass!"

It is these timeless moments that I relish the most during races. Not the fat ass part, but the being in the moment, losing the sense of time and hearing and felling nothing but what's going on inside and beside me.

Will I miss not doing as many races this year? Oh yeah! But I won't miss the start or finish, I will miss the in between. It is a bit like a sandwich. For me all the best parts of the race are what's between the two ends. That is where I learn, that is where I grow, that is the most painful part - but the part that I remember most.
The swim will segue into a highway. Anyone can start or finish a race. It takes real effort to have a metaphysical and temporal epiphany right in the solar plexus of the event. It's about time!

Monday, 31 January 2011

You can never go back.

I was watching Family Man while I was on the treadmill over the weekend. You know the movie - even if you haven't seen it. Guy (or gal)  gets a chance to do something over and get different results and in the process has some great epiphany and the world becomes a better place because of it. Think of It's a Wonderful Life, or Sliding DoorsFreaky Friday,  or even A Christmas Carol (aka Scrooge).

So I was trying to keep running in Zone 2 while contemplating what is it about life that makes some people wish to go back to an unchosen path and select that one instead of the one they are now on.

I remember an assignment in grade school that required writing an essay about "what I would do differently if I had six months to live". I didn't do very well on that assignment because the teacher didn't believe me when I wrote that I was doing what I want to be doing right now. How could anyone be happy with the here and now? Really! That was her reasoning. I don't think she was very happy with her life choices.

I've never quite bought into that philosophy of "wishing for what could have been". Of course, I have done a number of things that, in hindsight, I probably should not have done. And those things are etched in my memory. They remind me. They define me. They direct my actions. Had I never done them, I would not be who I am now.

Of course there are also many things that, in hindsight, I probably could have done differently. I could have kept swimming and running in my tweens and might have tried competing. I could have not quit competitive cycling in my teens when, on the first time out, my used Peugeot Record's chain broke on the first climb.

I do think what if, now and again, but only as a mental exercise. More to remember and learn from  the elaborate tapestry of my past, than to try to capture that elusive unicorn that was never mine to ride.

I've often struggled with the concept of goals. On one hand, I know that goals can provide direction and motivation to strive and achieve things that can make life more pleasant and rich or interesting. It is these same goals that lead so many to the tri life. Training for a triathlon to lose weight, to prove something, to keep up with friends, to check off an item on the bucket list...

Goals and ambition are inexorably tied, but somehow so too is nostalgia, it seems - the nostalgia for achieving something that could have been achieved if only some different path was taken many moons ago. 

I find that line of thinking somewhat paradoxical. Things would be different if, some time in the past, things were different. Okay, maybe not paradoxical...perhaps somewhat tautological.

My goals are far less grandiose and more rooted in a compelling curiosity for what is next. I wonder what running a block without stopping would feel like? What if I wore goggles when I tried to swim? What if I did register for Ironman? What if I did most of my training before the rest of the family woke up? What if I made my own sandwich and swam over lunch, rather than spending money at restaurants?

So I'm running on the treadmill. Looking at Nicolas Cage and Téa Leoni. I can't help but make some comparisons with my life choices, my current situation and the family with which I've been blessed.

With sweat dripping, I increase my pace on the treadmill -- partly to get a better workout -- and partly to travel, if not only metaphorically, further along the road already chosen.

When the workout was done, I could step off the treadmill and get on my bike - or do something else. Similarly I could change the channel and watch Survivorman or any other show. I don't have to rewind anything because I am the product of everything that I have failed at and achieved.

Moving forward continues to define me, even if sometimes, moving forward means standing still - or dancing on a treadmill.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Mob Frenzy

People change - I change. When I  am part of a group or engaged actively in the same interest as others, I become something that I was not.

Someone I respect and consider a friend, recently got into a race that requires a lottery entry. It is an exciting and very challenging race. I'm thrilled for my friend. But as I was thinking about this race and what would be involved for preparation, I realized that I felt no envy. I didn't once think that I'm undertrained or could not be ready for such a competition. In fact, I thought nothing other than genuine happiness for my friend.

This is a big change. In previous years, whilst I was in the thick of training and preparing, news of someone I knew (or trained with or read about) getting into a fabled race would have resulted in emotions ranging from guilt to envy -- each one of them self reflexive.

It was as if others' accomplishments or challenges were like mirrors with which I compared, evaluated and judged my own goals and current state.

But that was when I was on the inside.

That was when I was part of a group. I was engaged actively in the avocation of triathlon and all the relevant training and lifestyle eccentricities that entailed.

I'm now on the outside. I'm still training. I still have a race or two planned for this season. Swim/bike/run is still an important part of my life...and my lifestyle. But the conscious decision this year was to let this all-encompassing and life consuming passion settle into an activity and let some of the rest of my life percolate back into relevance.

And I've changed. I don't feel the tug and pull of updating my equipment as often. I have a training plan that I follow and I don't have the urge to alter it to keep up with others who are training for events I am not interested in this year.
Surprisingly, as a result, I feel more mentally nimble . It is as if my mind has switched from a basic Behaviorist model of reacting predictably to any stimulus, to something more...relaxed.

Maybe it is because I am now, kinda-sorta, a veteran of this tri stuff. Not that I'm great at it, but I know I what I'm capable of and that gives me some inner confidence. I think this is obvious.
I believe though, it has a lot more to do with not having the constant stimulus and thought-altering influence of the  mob.

This year, I'm not really in the "group". Although I may feel the group's influence occasionally when I wade into training sessions with them, their actions don't exert the same tidal pulls that they once did.
Maybe this is why I feel free enough to explore other facets of this active life, such as ultra and trail running. This is why, maybe, snowshoeing is such a pleasurable activity right now. Sure it is pretty good cross training, but it isn't really preparing me for something. It is just fun.

So this too seems to have become another element of my evolution. And re-reading these words, I realize that eschewing the frenzy (friendzy?) of the mob may have actually made me more comfortable within and without it!

Training for and completing three Ironman races gave me the confidence to do more. Stepping back, albeit momentarily, give me the confidence to do less and to do different. People change. I know I have. 

Friday, 21 January 2011

Tri to run, run to tri?

I've found myself a little too interested, of late,  in the idea of running longer distances...and running those distances off the beaten path.

Now I don't have any idea if I can run these distances, or even if they would bore me, but, over the past several years, my most pleasurable workouts have been off road in places that I have never explored before - running, climbing, walking, taking pictures - and never overly concerned about pace.

I've also been living somewhat vicariously through the stories and experiences of some local amazing athletes, such as Johnny Venture and Stacey Shand. I've also been following the triumphs, disappointments and musings of some online friends' blogs On the Run and Back of the Pack.

Still trying to mend my Plantars Fasciitis, I'm not running as much as I would like. The -30 to -40c temps of late have not helped either. But I am doing lots of snowshoeing and still enjoying the outdoors.

I have no Ironman scheduled, this year. Although I am really looking forward to the Great White North HIM in July. I'm also looking forward to another Ironman and hopefully the Silverman in 2012/13.

So. I started swimming again this week and enjoyed the numb tired feeling afterwards. I have ramped up my indoor biking and am leading a class on Saturdays. This week, the session is called "spin 'til you puke" - although, after I did a practice run of it, I felt less like puking and more like having a long nap. And I have done a few longish runs, so I will be ready come tri season.

The question is, should I try to run off road and see where the road less traveled takes me? What if that choice indeed makes all the difference and leads me even further from triathlon. And what if it does? I am trying to find my bliss, or at least follow it. It is out there somewhere. And whether it is wearing spandex or gators or, maybe, crampons, I just need to go have a look at what is just beyond that ridge or coulee...

For the time being, I'll amuse myself with the ongoing debate about Ironman vs Ultra runner. Here's a recent installment from the interwebs for your viewing pleasure.