March 22, 2015

This one time, at swim camp...

I have discovered the reason why hard-core athletes get so many injuries. It's the stumbling around in the dark. Do you know how dark it is at 6:00 a.m.? The truly hard-core have probably been on the bike trainer for an hour at that point. But for me, this is a totally uncivilized time of day to be doing anything. It seems even darker when that early morning is on a Sunday. On this particular Sunday, I had signed up for TechnoSport's swim camp and was scheduled to be on the pool deck downtown at 6:45. I jumped out of bed to the sound of my alarm and proceeded to stagger around getting dressed, bumping into just about everything as my brain took its time booting up.

I scarfed some oatmeal, threw a post-workout banana in my bag, and headed out into the dark. My water bottle skidded under the car as I was packing up, and I got some bonus road salt along with my first swig. Holy mother of God... the early hour and lack of light must be playing tricks on my mind, because I could swear it's like -20 out here. But it's March 22nd, so there's no way that could be right. Could it? As it turned out, four hours later on the now sunny return trip home, the radio announcer glumly reported a current temperature of -14, -24 with the wind chill. Someone please remind me why I live here.

Malevich's "Black Square" -- also known as "Early Morning Before Swim Camp"

I knew the camp was to take place at the Ottawa U pool. No problem, I know where Ottawa U is. At least, I know the several-block area that encompasses the campus. Trying to find the pool, however, was an exercise in frustration. Pulled over in the dark, arguing with Siri that there IS such a place as University of Ottawa, that the street I'm sitting on exists outside my imagination, and how the hell do I get to the pool... it was like a Hotel California of pedestrian walkways, construction areas, and one way streets going the wrong way. I rolled down my window and called over to a fellow walking with a bag -- "Hey, do you know how to get to the pool?" As it turned out he was looking for it too. I offered a ride, which meant now I was disoriented, in the dark, with a strange man in my car. But all's well that ends well, right?

The actual camp was great -- it included underwater video and body composition analysis along with the swim coaching. Apparently, I'm dropping my elbow and pulling too far to the side, especially with my right arm. The coaches emphasized long, reaching, slow strokes. This was a departure from what I was comfortable with, and I struggled a little to keep constant pressure on the water with such a slow turnover. The masters swimmers from the same club were in the other lanes while we did our clinic. They all looked so fast, and efficient. I tried to absorb as much information as I could, and make the most of the exercises we were given. At the very end of the clinic, I got the best compliment ever -- a lady from the masters practice said "nice stroke". I did one of those things where you look around to see who she was talking to... and beamed when I realized she was talking to me.

A giant salad spinner for swim suits, which I found in the locker room. Apparently these are a thing.

A benefit to the early start? The Elgin Street Diner still had plenty of good tables available at 9:00 when I got there. Turns out my server is an aspiring triathlete, and we volleyed a few lines back and forth from "Shit Triathletes Say." Quite entertaining, if you haven't seen it.

March 20, 2015

Not just about the racing

I saw a quote today that struck me:

"Creation did not birth you to pay your bills and die."

Indeed. There are many avenues to celebrate, empower, and magnify our true selves -- not to get all incense-burning, new-age-y here. One thing I've discovered is that endurance sport, through the races, events, and the people involved with it, can be an amazing vehicle for raising funds and awareness for charitable causes. I've been fortunate enough to help raise money for different initiatives, through racing, joining charity events, even selling gear and cutting my hair (which, granted, had less athletic involvement). In some cases, contributing to someone else's fundraising has worked out even better. Case in point, donating to my friend Mike (co-founder of Good Guys Tri and all around defcon-5 endurance athlete) as he undertook a 100k run from Ottawa to Montebello to raise money for kids' cancer. "Isn't that farther than a marathon??", asked my awe-struck daughter. "Um... it's actually farther than TWO marathons." Better you than me, Mike. Keep on keepin' on.

My contributions were a only drop in the bucket, but each special cause left me with a renewed feeling of gratitude. For the health that allows me to enjoy the activities I take part in. For the health of my family. For the job that lets me go to the grocery store with my kids and fill the cart with healthy food. In that way, these small gestures to help those less fortunate actually rewarded ME more than I could have imagined. I highly recommend taking up a cause in your endurance pursuits... check out the slightly goofy examples below.

From this... this! For a great cause -- the family of a little boy with special needs.

Can you find the non-superhero in this picture? No, it's not the guy in the hoodie... apparently he's legit.

Terrible Photoshop and ribbing your coworkers. Putting the "fun" in "fundraising"!

This year, I'm focusing on a single fundraising effort -- the Lap the Gats ride for Parkinson's research. This is a 3-hour tour (wait -- that sounds ominous) climbing and descending the Gatineau hills on a 21 km loop. Each rider tries to complete as many loops they can, within 3 hours. Or until they drop from oxygen debt, whichever comes first. Looking forward to rocking a road bike (that's not attached to the bike trainer) for the first time in quite awhile! Shameless plug for donations in 3... 2... 1...

***Click here to sponsor my ride to support Parkinson's research!***

I encourage anyone who's signed up for races that have an optional charity component, use it as another way to challenge yourself. Involve your coworkers. Create a team. Let your family know you're looking to support this cause. Tweet, Facebook, do whatever kids do these days that isn't so old school to spread awareness (short of selling tattoo space on your face... maybe don't do that). What you give away will more than come back to you.

March 08, 2015

Setting goals and measuring up

What is this unfamiliar glowing orb in the sky? Aggh, my eyes!!
Enough snow has melted that I can see the sidewalk (at least, most of it). Rather than go for a skate or tromp around in my snowshoes, it's time to get down to business. I've written out some goals. Made some plans for how to get there. I've got schedules -- times, distances, target paces -- all in place to help me reach those goals. And I've discovered something... I have a lot of work to do.

I might as well have out with it. My next big goal is to qualify for the ITU age group World Championships. I'm hoping to hit this goal within a 3-year timeframe, building my fitness base and more big-event racing experience till I get there. If you're a stud triathlete, you might be thinking "pfftt... not that hard". But that depth of field is a bigger pond than I've been swimming in (figuratively speaking). I make the mistake of frequenting a tri forum where egos are measured in watts, and those outside the sub-10 hour Ironman club are seen by some as lower life forms. Now, there are a lot of very helpful folks there as well... but the undercurrent of what is "good enough" versus what is not can be insidious, even when my rational self knows that is not the yardstick to measure myself by.

Best way to hide Easter eggs this year... leave them white
Racing is all relative. You race the field that shows up, on the day that presents itself, on the course that is available. Everyone's got to swim in the same 15 degree chop. Everyone's got to avoid the same potholes. Everyone pushes to the finish line in the same downpour. The actual time becomes almost insignificant... it's the course on the day that decides how long it will take for the victor (and those behind) to finish. That said, to come up with smaller goals in pursuit of my larger one, I looked through results from last year at Magog -- the race where I'll do the Olympic distance national qualifier this season. Top 10 in each age group get a spot on the team. To come in the top 10 based on last year's results, I set the following as targets:

  • swim 1500 m in 30 minutes
  • bike 40 km averaging 28 km/h (on the hilly Magog course... on flatter courses this season I want to average 30 km/h)
  • run 10 km in 51 minutes

Until now, I've been almost embarrassed to voice those targets. Because for a pure swimmer, cyclist, or runner, or an elite triathlete, those times are not particularly fast. At all. However, if I put it in context, I've only ever done one Oly distance race. I'm pretty close on the bike and the run if I can get back to my peak fitness levels from last season (and do it without getting injured). But I am not even in the same ballpark for the swim. Like, not even in the same swim universe. I've tried to remind myself again of context. In 2013 I built up to swimming 200 m (included in there was trying to remember how to do front crawl). In 2014 I built up to 2000 m, and was really happy with my 49:02 swim time at my first half-Iron distance. This year I have to inject some serious speed if I don't want the swim to tank my chances at success. 1500 m in 30 minutes works out to an average of 2:00 per 100 m. To a swimmer, I have learned that this is pretty laughable. I did a few time trials of different distances last week to see where I'm at -- the fastest I could manage for 100 m was 2:10. For a single 100 m... forget holding that over half an hour. Oh shit. So, what can I do but create a plan to swim more, get some guidance on technique, include intervals to help my speed, build volume to help my endurance, and maybe a little dash of praying to the universe that the plan works. It's going to take all my hard work to meet this goal.

This brings me to the real thing that drove me to post today. It's been a long winter on the trainer and indoors in general, and to get motivated and feel encouraged I've been reading some blog posts and race reports. One, from coach Geordie, was titled Rich in Admiration, Free from Envy. The thrust of the post was the following -- which I have taken directly from that blog entry:

Compare yourself to others but remember these things:
1. If you see your performance as greater than others, be thankful and humble.  Remember that there are always greater and always lesser, and that you may be blessed to be in a position to inspire others.
2. If you see your performance as lesser than others in comparison, do not envy their achievement but admire it and use it to inspire your drive forward.  And, remember, you too are in a position to inspire others for you're not on the sidelines, you're in the race.

I've always admired athletes who are faster, stronger, better than I am. I see the hard work they put in, and the returns reaped from that. I've also watched athletes honour their pure giftedness, and been inspired -- and gobsmacked. Have you ever seen Mirinda Carfrae or Gwen Jorgensen blow past half the field on the run, as if everyone else was standing still? It's worth checking out. At Abu Dhabi yesterday, they said at one point Gwen was running 2:58 min/km. She holds this sort of pace for 5 km. Let me put that in perspective for you -- if I set the treadmill at 2:58 and tried to run on it, I would get shot backward into the wall of the gym like I was fired out of a cannon.

Photo by Janos Schmidt
Hope that motorbike has some extra gears

photo by
Somewhere, angels are singing... and watching with a bowl of popcorn

I had a similar "holy crap" moment yesterday, reading a blog post by a talented young woman in my tri club (her blog is The Happy Triathlete -- go check it out). She is a former competitive swimmer who has made a very successful transition to triathlon. A swim workout (that it seems would have been even longer if her lane mate wasn't on a rest week) went as follows... 4000 m... with sets of 100 m at times between 1:25 and 1:35 with 20 seconds of rest in between. ...Right? And racing a single shot at 100 m, this young fish can cover the distance in LESS THAN HALF the time it takes me. Wow.

Photo by
Kelsey ready for total swim annihilation

Now -- elsewhere in Kelsey's postings, she discusses being somewhat worried about her cycling. Which reminded me that everyone, even the most gifted, has something they worry about. Allegedly, Rinny (aforementioned uber-runner and 3-time Ironman world champ) at one point complained to her husband that she was getting fat. "No way," he apparently replied, "if you were getting fat, your swim would be faster." Now that's love right there. And those seemingly effortless crushings we witness? A lot of sweat, time, and suffering went into those "effortless" performances. So I'm posting my goals, which for me will take effort and time to achieve.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum athletic or otherwise, there will always be someone lesser and someone greater. Let's appreciate other's strengths, support each other in pursuit of our goals, and remember that we're not just measured by the clock. That schedule I've built? At its core are mornings of getting kids off to school and evenings of bedtime stories and snuggles. The non-negotiable items that I'll never skip.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go spend some time in the pool.