Sunday, 12 August 2018

Ultra520K Canada

Much like Ironman, the origins of this race come from Hawaii. In 1983, a few nutters came up with the idea to circumnavigate the Big Island of Hawaii in three days. This was achieved with a 10km swim, followed by a 145km ride on day one. A 276km ride on day two, and an 84km run on the final day. The field is limited to 35 people, each athlete requires a two person crew, and each stage must be completed in 12 hours. In 1993, this event was recreated in Canada, based in Penticton. Believe it or not, I have quite a few friends who have taken on the challenge, and was drawn into it in 2007, when it could be done as a relay. I filled in for a fellow who had a crash prior to the event, and did both bike legs for a relay team. A few years later, I was crew for Kathleen Wood, and head cheerleader for Kara Hoffman, and saw the nature of the beast in it’s entirety. I followed quite a few more friends through this event, then I heard that the event may come to a close. It was the nudge I needed to take on the challenge myself.

Be careful of what you put on your calendar, because it always comes to fruition with the passage of time. After months of preparation, August arrived, and I had a VRBO booking in Penticton, and a crew showing up to get me through the distance. My crew is the dream team. Jen Segger came up from Squamish to escort me through the swim on her paddleboard. She has a remarkable resume of adventure racing and ultra running, and is an Ultraman champion. Leah Goldstein came as a coach and crew member. She is a legend internationally as a professional bike racer and world class ultra-distance cyclist. Lori Moger has the most experience with crewing ultra distance events. She has crewed for Leah at Race Across America, which involves keeping a cyclist moving day and night over 9-10 days, which makes this event look like child’s play. Watching Lori’s attention to detail and ingenious ideas makes me realize that I was clueless when I crewed for athletes in the past. As you can probably imagine, it was quite humbling to have three people give up their time for me. I was the only athlete with two crews with distinct roles. Riding in the Mini was Andrew, Maddy, and Lori’s daughter Halle. They had the most important task….to keep me smiling.

Race morning came, and I felt the same as most race mornings….that feeling of a slow squeeze, where my stomach gets tighter and tighter as the reality of the day comes to consciousness. We all got down to the start area, and funny things started to happen as my brain was scattered with nerves. I realized that I had forgotten my wetsuit, and the crew called Andrew hoping he had not left the house yet. Five minutes later I realized it was in the back pack. That I was wearing. Suiting up, I got the neck lube all over my hands, and panicked that I wouldn’t be able to grab the water. Halle just appeared with a handful of soap to clean my hands. I found myself in a circle of 35 athletes listening to the blessings of the race director and local First Nations leader. I shook with shivers and nerves, then waded into the water to find Jen. I must have looked petrified, because Arnaud from France rushed towards me, picked me up and swung me around before the starting horn sounded.

As soon as my head was in the water, and I could see the sand moving under me, everything was okay. Jen’s board was by my side, and I could see her calm, confident paddling at every breath. My own breathing calmed, and I just swam steady and followed our plan: swim for 30 minutes, stop for a gel and water, and do it again. We didn’t stray from the plan at all. The gels went down well, and my swim stroke stayed in tact. Part way through the swell grew with the tail wind. While I am not able to surf the water like the good swimmers, I did find a rhythm. My only issue was if Jen was slightly ahead of me, and I couldn’t see the board. My stomach instantly felt nauseous as I lost track of land. Jen was so cool and relaxed that she could text and chat to Andrew to share my progress. As I got more tired, Jen gave me more frequent cues on time and distance, and reminded me to finish my stroke. We turned the final buoy and I had the hardest section with very choppy water to finish. Somehow I reached that shoreline, blew some kisses to Jen, and my crew walked me up to the transition tent. Swim DONE! Jen’s Garmin read 10.01km. I didn’t swim more than 10 meters more than required. What a pro escort. 3 hours 45min, 19th position.

Transition was comedy. There were a few too many hands on deck. As Leah attempted to take off my wetsuit, my slippery butt was scooting off the chair. When we eventually got that sucker off, my tri shorts did not want to go back on that butt, and just got stuck below the shelf. Eventually I made my way out to the bike, with every intention of getting on with it. Apparently my brain thought I was still swimming and my weight kept shifting in the opposite direction. As much as I thought I was riding straight, I rode off the road into the dirt. Feeling silly, I started again on the steep hill. Ten pedal strokes later, I went off the road again. This time I yelled out loud to myself to smarten up, and somehow stayed on the tarmac.

Day one ride is 145km, the old IM Canada route, but starting at Skaha lake and finishing at Okanagan Falls. This set me up with lots of confidence. It was a blaster ride down to Osoyoos, and I was clocking 45km/hour on the flats with a good tail wind. All of my energy went into managing intensity, food supply, and my breathing. I have a respiratory weakness, and when I swim the diaphragm acts as a core stabilizer, so after a long swim, my breathing is difficult for days. On this ride I tried to keep pressure on the pedals but never allow my breathing to lose rhythm or let the rate get too high. My crew did the leap frog method, and I received a steady flow of eLoad and water. It became clear early on that nutrition would have to be gels, chews, or liquids. I couldn’t swallow any bite of a solid. I was really comfortable on the climb over Richter, and the seven rollers towards Keremeos. Eventually the heat and the headwind caught up with me, and I started to feel the fatigue. A wasp found it’s way into my helmet and required a full stop to get it out. In that single stop, it felt like the energy just disappeared from my body. I hadn’t seen anyone in awhile, and the infamous out and back section in Keremeos was slow and bumpy as expected. I felt pretty low, and decided to pull out my trump card a little early. I asked for a bottle of Coke for the long climb towards Yellow Lake. It was the injection I needed, and I knew Andrew, Maddy and Halle planned to find me on the climb. They were there with a sign and cow bells, and I found a new gear. Once on top, I had a wicked fast descent into Okanagan Falls. A 5:00 hour clocking gave me the fastest women’s time of the day, and fifth fastest ride overall. Mission accomplished.

Over the course of the evening I began to feel the effort of the day. At this point, my breathing was uncomfortable and I got scared that I had over-cooked it on day one. I remember Kara Hoffman telling me that day one was the easiest day, and to do a slow build into the weekend. That thought brewed in the background, but the mood at the house was fun. Andrew made a steak dinner on our roof top patio over-looking Okanagan lake.

Morning came quickly, and I had only slept for snippets of the night. For whatever reason, I was sick with nerves. I had a tiny bowl of cereal at about 5am, then tried to have toast and banana an hour later but couldn’t swallow a bite. My crew was ready to rumble, but I was a puddle of tears. Andrew put on his ‘doctor voice’ and calmly talked sense into me. It’s was just a bike ride for Heaven’s Sake, but I didn’t feel up to the task. Leah just told me to roll into it, and that even my bad day would be a solid one. We were called to the line in order of the previous day’s ride, so I sat up with the big boys in fifth. The starting horn went off, and we head out to conquer 276km.

As soon as I was rolling all the nerves disappeared….and I was STARVING! I devoured everything in my pockets. The first section was 100km out and back to Osoyoos. Since it was a mass start, it was much busier than the day one ride, and drafting was a constant consideration. It felt fast and hard ride out of the gates. I had ridden the course in preparation and knew the race didn’t start until 100km, so tried not to get caught up in the early speed, but not lose touch with my competition. There are quite a few traffic lights along the course as you pass through towns, so that was another reason to try not and get separated. Well, I did get separated, and I did get stopped but tried to remember that it’s a very long day. My crew was on fire, constantly in the right place on the course with a system of white bottles for water, and clear bottles for eLoad, and nutrition alternated with that. As I approached Okanagan Falls the plan was to trade to my road bike for the climb. It was short and slick, and I was off to the infamous Wall on my road bike with shorty tri bars. It felt good to have a change of seat and lower gears. The Wall is not a big deal for me, as it’s pichy but fairly short. Nipper and Anton surprised me on the hill, and gave me a shot of energy. There is a no-feed zone for 12km then I hoped to see my crew to switch bikes. I was a little disappointed not to see them where I expected. I approached a loose intersection, and a crew car was parked where I thought there should be a sign. I asked which direction, and followed the point. I heard a car honk, so coasted and waited to see if someone would jump from the car to re-direct me, but saw nothing so continued on my way. A few minutes later a motorbike caught me going Mach 10. He turned me back to the bike course, asked me what my crew car looked like to track them down. When I was back on course, my heart sank as I saw riders who were previously well back from me. I had hoped to make my way to the front runner Katie as climbing is my strength. Well, I just decided to consider than my ‘flat tire’, and work hard. Eventually I saw my crew and changed bikes. This is where I made mistakes that affected the rest of my ride. I was so caught up in feeling ‘behind’ that I stopped focussing on nutrition. It got hot, and I took the food my crew passed me but just chucked it. I kept drinking water, but got behind on electrolytes and fuel. I found myself making the turn for the highway to Princeton not realizing that I was running on fumes. The highway is just a long slog for about 80km and nausea set in. I felt lucky the headwinds were much less than in practice, but the challenge is to stay in aero position and keep pressure on the pedals without loosing focus. I noticed that I was getting sleepy and having trouble keeping my eyes open. From past experience I vaguely remembered that this was due to serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, and protein was the ticket. I asked for the protein smoothie and tried to drink it on the fly.  Much of it ended up covering my arms, but a good deal made it down the hatch too. Eventually I was making the turn for the out-and-back in Princeton, and saw the finish area that we would come back to in 60km. I had told my crew that I wanted Coke alternating with water only. Apparently Leah knew I was in big trouble at that point. She was right. I was vomiting and spitting up the smoothie. My body was in full goosebumps even in the heat. Well somehow 60km came to pass. Leah had jumped from the car to make sure the highway was safe to cross, but I just blew through to the finish. 

I was done, but not feeling elated. I just felt so so sick to my stomach. Lori kindly walked me over to medical, and people were so incredibly helpful and kind. I wanted it all to be over so I decided to wash off in the ice bath so I could get a massage and get home. Noting that I was shivering too much, I though a short hot shower would help. It turns out that it was a freezing shower. That was my next mistake. By the time I lay down for the massage my core temp was dropping quickly, and my breathing was in panic mode. Medical went to find as many blankets as they could, and I brought my body in as tight as I could, but it was having no effect. Short on fuel, my thoughts didn’t make sense and I wasn’t problem solving. Karen the massage therapist put her warm hands on my head and whispered into my ear “We are with you.” I meant so much to me, as I felt like I was disappearing. A nurse from another crew made the decision to put me in the sun with a metal blanket. The heat of the tarmac felt so good. Ten minutes later, it all turned around, and it wasn’t long before I was snacking on potato chips. There was no medical emergency but I did ramp up the drama! Leah told me I was second on the day, and the third fastest female rider on that course ever. I said “I don’t give a shit”. She said “You will tomorrow”. 9 hours 12 minutes.

After a long warm shower and a bag of chips, I felt human again. I could see that in the background my crew was cleaning out coolers, filling up with gas, cleaning water bottles, organizing food, and buying bags of ice. They didn’t stop working for four days straight. Lori and I went out for dinner and Leah got out for a ride. I found out later than my crew was extremely worried about my run the next day. It was no secret that I had been juggling injuries all season, and my longest preparation had been 35km walk/jog on the Rail Trail four weeks prior. The gap between that and 84km on a hilly course was fairly obvious. Unbeknownst to me, Lori phoned Andrew in Penticton to send him on a hunt for compression socks and knees, and bananas and gels, abandoning my previous nutrition plan. Not an easy task on a Sunday afternoon.

Morning arrived, and I felt strangely relaxed. I think all the pressure was off since neither my crew or I expected a smooth road, and reaching the finish line in any way, shape or form would be a massive success. We drove out to the back road between Princeton and Summerland, and got called to the line. The whole field seemed relaxed and calm. I suppose 84km is long enough that no one is ramped up to race off the line.

So I just ran. Smooth, easy, quick feet, easy breathing, and continuous. The miles just kept ticking away. I watched some other runners bounding away from me, so I used my Garmin watch initially, to keep the pace down. I hadn’t recharged my watch, so then it was Leah and Lori, reminding me to slow down. I was very careful to walk the hills to keep the pressure off the hamstring. That would likely be the first thing to blow up. The knees would come later on the descents. The time seemed to pass pretty quickly….but perhaps not for my crew. They planned to stop every. single. kilometre. for 84 km. I think my job was easier than theirs. They were militant about nutrition. Every hour I was to receive to electrolyte capsules. Every half hour, I was to have a gel or equivalent. I was to alternate sips of water and eLoad, and not touch the Coke until the final half marathon. Leah and Lori kept a log, and watched me like a psych patient to make sure I got things down. It worked. My stomach generally felt good, and when it started hurting, I took Peptobismal and that worked too. I simply could not believe how well things were going. One little quirky thing was how much I didn’t want anything touching my skin. I chose not to take my watch back after it was recharged. My clothes were uncomfortable on my skin too. I took off my tank top, and ran in a sport bra. That felt too snug on my chest, and I got my crew to cut the fabric up the sides.

Soon enough, I saw a little red mini with white racing stripes come around the corner. It was my cheerleading squad with Andrew, Maddy and Halle. That’s when things got playful. Take two rhythmic gymnasts and give them nine hours to make up dances, and draw inspirational quotes on a huge white board. Things got hard. It got tricky to find firm ground on the washboard gravel road. Some of the steep climbs shot the heart rate up even at a walk. I got a little serious, and at some point Andrew reminded me that everyone was suffering now. I chirped back “Except for me!” and the whole crew cracked up, relieved that I was still finding the humour in things. Leah decided the count down shouldn’t happen until 30km to go. I asked her for a clocking, and she said 34km. Damn, I thought I had covered more ground than that in the last half hour. Around the corner was Halle, holding up her sign high and proud with 30km to go. Instead of a cheer, she got my first tears of the day. I was mad too. So what was it, 34km or 30km. Eventually Lori sorted it out by calling out the car window. “Leah lied”. That was funny a few kilometres later.

My next emotion was when I got passed. There had been some brushes with the first place woman throughout the run. I could see her white tank top and green hat just ahead of me multiple times. I saw her walk, then bound away again like a rabbit. I didn’t get emotionally involved because I knew my path would be a hard one. I found it hard when Susie came up and passed me about 15km from the finish. She was having a brilliant steady race, after swimming a record pace on the first day. I was so disappointed not to be able to go with her. My breathing was easy, and energy good, but my hamstring and knees could not respond. I was stuck trotting the flats, and walking the hills. I yelled at my crew car that I would Finish this F-er.

Lori had run on and off with me throughout the day. She carried bottles, moved at a snail’s pace, and didn’t ask anything of me. I began to rely on her heavily near the end. At some point, I caught sight of a Balance Point Racing Junior racing team jersey. He cheered me on as he whizzed by. More and more blue and black jerseys zipped around the corners, and it lifted my spirits to feel such youthful energy in the air. Sadly, no amount of willpower could improve my situation. The descents in the last 10km brought on a new level of pain. Tylenol helped briefly, but I could barely walk down them. I reminded myself that my coach Leah was there, and she understood suffering at an inhuman level. She road across America with her head held up by attaching her hair to her back. I would just have to dig deeper. I wished I could put on a show, and run hard to the finish, but I limped my way along. I told Lori that we needed to stay focussed on nutrition since it was taking much longer than I thought to finish up. I had another smile as Anton Kew found me and shared our long standing joke that my nose would always, always find it’s way to a Dairy Queen. At last I was turning the final corner. The BPR Junior team rode along next to me, and Luke and Stacey cheered me in. My crew surrounded me, and I ran the flag lined finish chute with Steve King excitedly declaring my finish, met by Bruce Schoene’s wife and Steve Brown  with a medal. Relief, delight, disbelief, gratefulness, and a feeling of love and family at the finish line. I am the luckiest girl in the world to be surrounded by people who want the best for me, and worked so hard to allow me to experience this personal challenge. Run 9:37, Total 27:37, 3rd woman, 9th overall.

We came together as strangers, competed as friends, we part as brothers and sisters.

Gerry van de Wint

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

XTERRA 2016 and completion of the Double-Double

XTERRA was his idea. I had convinced Andrew that we needed to complete Ironman in Hawaii together, to wrap up 15 years of our IM experience properly, as we had both DNF’d from Ironman Wisconsin 2014. It was his idea to do XTERRA as well, two weeks later, known as the Double. The goal was to go from a double DNF to completion of IM and XTERRA at world championships in 2016 as a couple…with the cheesy moniker Double-Double. I said no, but here I found myself, two weeks after IM on a beach in Maui, with 800 other athletes from 46 countries.

The winds in Maui had been high all week, with regular intervals of torrential rain. I stood on the beach with helicopters overhead, waves crashing, media everywhere, and people excited to see the pros sprint into the surf. I had already said goodbye to Andrew, as there were four wave starts. I was standing with a friend from home, who was supportive, positive and fun. I appreciated her energy, but felt envious of her strong and lithe swimmer's body, knowing she would be a top amateur out of the water. After the 30 second warning was announced, a massive set of rollers pounded the beach, and 3000 people on shore all whooped and cheered at the enormity of it all. The gun exploded and we watched the pros run and dive through the waves. Some of them timed it perfectly, and others were lifted up and spat back out on the sand. As each wave start set off, my anxiety got louder as some swimmers didn't enter the water at all. They approached the start, tried to summon the courage, but turned away. It kind of broke my heart to know they would not complete their goal on that day. And then it was my turn, and I ran into the water like everyone else, dove under a few waves, and before I knew it, I was beyond the shore break. The swell felt enormous, and sightings of the turn buoys were brief, but I was turning it over ok. The course was an M shape with a return to shore, and a short beach run in the middle. While it was bigger swell than I'd ever experienced, I found myself approaching shore with half the swim almost complete. Breathing to my left I saw a massive curling wave behind me. I tried to stretch out my arms and body surf as Andrew had shown me, but in an instant I was thrown into a Scorpion bend, snapping backward, over and over not knowing which way was up. Fear filled my body, and then I hit other bodies. A foot came down on my head, and a toe pulled through my goggle strap, stripping my cap from my head. I grabbed it off the foot as I was pulled back with the tow. I got a breath, and had one more lesser wave tumble me onto sand, before I could scramble and hop my way to shore through the powerful receding water. Running along the sand, I did not want to head back in to complete the swim. Attempting to calm my ragged breathing, I stopped to walk and settle down. I put my cap and goggles back on, and watched the water to decide when to re-enter the fierce ocean. I got through the surf unharmed, and swam toward the next buoy. On that side of the bay, the swell was coming across our route, and rolled over my head not allowing a downwind breath. The wind whipped off the top of the waves, making it feel like hail on my head. Eventually I found myself approaching the beach again, and I felt a sense of panic. I looked back to the lifeguards on Jet Skis, briefly considering an escape from this situation.  As it happens, I made it to the beach with some tumble and scramble, but no drama. The path to transition was lined with people cheering, but I couldn't look up. I was shell shocked, and not ready to celebrate.
A pro getting tossed

I went through the motions in transition and got on my bike. Once I was rolling on two wheels, and had a sip of eLoad to replace the salt and sand in my mouth, I felt normal again pretty quickly. The bike course fires up a steep hill leaving Kapalua resort. Within the first mile I had passed about 30 people before we hit the single track. The terrain is mostly smooth path, with a mud base, and roughly cut Hawaiian thick grasses. There are sections that wind through trees, and some steep climbs. I felt a little stuck behind slower riders, but passed whenever I saw a small widening. I tried to relax and refuel from my camelback when I couldn't pass. The smooth sailing didn't continue for long. Over the next 10 miles the trails were either super slick and greasy, or deep condensed muddy glue. It became a game of pulling and pushing handfuls of gunk from between the frame and the back wheel, or hauling a forty pound mud-covered dead weight up slick climbs when the back wheel could not be released. At times I was at a complete stand still as riders were bunched in groups trying to negotiate sharp ascents or descents. I got a little frustrated as some people had completely given up, and were not moving briskly on or off the bike. I still wanted to race, even though it seemed a little ridiculous as we hauled our mud-laden bikes up the climbs. Eventually I reached the top of the primary climb, and I got the wheels turning for the long descent. It got kind of fun. I passed many more people that either couldn't free their wheels, or had broken derailleurs and chains. Part way down I was reminded to keep it safe as a guy yelled that there was a medical emergency below. I heard afterward that a fellow was medevacced off the mountain, and they had an all-time high of broken bones that day. Closer to the end of the course it got super fun. The slick mud was replaced with soft needles and roots through the trees, and it began to feel like my favourite Beowulf trail at Silver Star. Bombing down the hill into transition, I was finally ready to celebrate the joy of it all, and hooted and hollered with a few others through the final tunnel. Running my bike to the rack dedicated to my age group category, I was surprised to see virtually no other bikes there. Knowing how slow going it had been for me, I wondered where the heck everyone was. Had I missed part of the course? Despite my confusion I was ready to slip on my runners. Running is so darn safe! The only issue was that I couldn't release the buckles on my bike shoes. They were glued shut with Hawaiian mud. I grabbed a tire lever from my pack to scrape and bang at the mud, and tried to drip the fluid from my hydration pack on the buckles. Finally free, I clipped on my race number belt, and ran back up the hill to the trails.
A photo from a friend's got worse!

The run is basically a two mile climb through the grassy paths, a mile of fairly flat single track in the trees, then a long descent back to the ocean, with some short up hill kickers to keep us honest. I tried to keep up some intensity, and repeat the mantra to race right to the finish line. My breathing dictated the pace though, and I kept it at the threshold of rhythmical. I was a little disappointed to keep getting reduced to a walk on the climbs, but just kept checking that I was working as hard as I could. I continued to pass runners, and was only passed by one brilliant descender. After the last steep grind,  down and down we went, ducking under and over fallen trees, through a tiny ravine and funnelled out onto the beach where it all began. A couple hundred meters on the sand sucked any remaining energy from the legs, but at last I found myself in the final stretch leading towards the infamous flag-lined finish chute. Andrew cheered from the side of the chute, and suddenly I was finished...we were finished...the cheesy Double-Double. To make it even sweeter, we both finished fourth in our respective categories, and I was the 15th amateur woman. The Double is actually a real thing, and I was the first female of the small number that took it on, so received a gift certificate for accommodation in Maui. And in case you are wondering…no, I'm not going to use it for another race.
The long awaited finishing chute

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Ironman Wisconsin 2015

and it started like this....

A Brash Decision
In early July, I came home from Trans Alp. My partner Jen and I had ridden our brains out for 7 days in the Alps, after 6 months of great training. We shared an amazing adventure, but racing turned into survival after a case of Giardia. The buzz of riding in the Alps was wearing off, and I needed my next fix. Enter Facebook. My friends Alanna and Laura had just finished IM CDA, and in a brash moment decided to chase that race with IM Whistler. They had been frustrated with 42 degrees in Coeur D'Alene, and wanted one more crack at it. With three weeks until race day, I wanted in on that adventure. I called our friends in Whistler hoping to crash at their place, and Kristian and Charlotte had a good laugh at my plan. Well, as it happens Kristian is a coach. A good one. And he's friends with my husband. They talked, and I received an intervention...aka no, don't do it. Apparently cycling in the Alps is not ideal training for an Ironman. Three days later I was registered for IM Wisconsin with an 8 week timeline...much more reasonable, but still exciting.

Bubbling confidence
I got on my tri bike, and the aero position felt strong almost immediately. My bike is incredibly light, electronic shifting at my finger tips, new snug drinking system, and I felt invincible on the bike. I shifted my training to consistency over distance.

Andrew and started running in the trails, and although it was a mix of walk and jog, we both felt fantastic, gradually going longer and longer.

I always talk about that swim with a wry smile. At my best, I swim with the goal of getting out of the water with some juice left in the tank for the rest of the race. With 8 weeks to prep, that's all I in the water 4 days a week, and ensured that I did the full distance at least once a week. My confidence in the water was where it should be...cautiously optimistic.

Misgivings and doubts
What's an Ironman without sickening doubt a few weeks out? Andrew and I decided to get on the road, and make the legs absorb the tarmac for the last long run. Sounds genius right? Except that it was our only long run...and our only run on tarmac...and we let the pace escalate as we confidently chatted about the race. Until we weren't. Then we walked, and I might have groaned and sobbed a bit, very sore, but also very scared that a marathon is no joke, and deserved more respect than I gave it. We went down to the coast for family time on the Island, and the doubts escalated. My knee was zinging at a walk, I felt disconnected from the training, and wasn't quite sure how the wine and pizza were going to help me come race day.

Smooth and Strong
Home again to take Madeline to school for her first day and set her up with Nana, I swam twice in the lake...relieved that I remembered how. Setting off to meet Andrew in Madison as he flew out of Vancouver, I had both bike boxes. I didn't sleep a wink, so nervous that I'd have trouble getting both our bikes there. It was smooth as butter. No issue on any flight, or with immigration. I had time to reflect on a conversation I had with Kara, who has known me since this IM passion began. I flipped through a book she made for me a decade ago, with input from Vernon tri friends. It was inspiration to give my best effort at IM Western Australia, with an 8 month old in tow. I had written out every preparation including my doubts, leading up to the strongest IM I've done. Granted I am a decade older, but knowing that I wasn't dealing with a teething, jet lagged, hungry baby in the night, gave me a wee boost. I finished that conversation with Kara full of love and confidence again. I replaced my doubts with the mantra "smooth and strong" and set out to have one hell of a date with my husband in Madison.

Race Day
Smooth as Butter. I had the smoothest, simplest, most pleasant Ironman day I've ever had. Maybe it has a soft glow now that it's all over, but that's how I remember it. Breakfast went down easily. We had a short walk to the start from our hotel. Body marking was quick. There was a short line at the portapotty. I got into the lake easily, and could see Andrew floating in front of me waiting for the gun. It was just so darn smooth.

For the swim I dreamed of 1:10, expected 1:12, but prepared for 1:20, so that I wouldn't freak out if I saw a slower time than expected. The swim was fine...but lengthy. I wish I had worn a GPS, as I saw every buoy from every angle. The sun was low, and I was in the midst of 2600 people, and couldn't sight the buoys for the life of me. I was 1:16. Whatever. What's 5 minutes.

This was first event where I had no trouble in verbalizing my real goal. I wanted to SMASH the ride. I wanted to ride out of my skin, and just live with the consequences on the run. The start of the IMWI ride has no flow, especially if you exit the water with the maximum flow of swimmers. There is a series of bike paths and underpasses to get out of town, and I was itching to leave the 'no pass zone'. It wasn't long until I got to light it up, and ride my heart out. I tracked down 672 riders, 190 of those being women. Given that I'd trained to climb in standing in the Alps, I followed Andrew's suggestion. I stood on every hill, and recovered on every descent. As expected, the Madison spectators didn't disappoint. I saw the Devil, the Creepy Clown, the Undertaker, the Angels, the 20 year old boys in banana hammocks, the rude signs, then kids cheering on Daddy. I revelled in the man beating his drum to my cadence up the hill, and the women screaming my virtues over the crest of the hill. When else does a middle-aged woman, taking part in an amateur sporting event have fans? I felt grateful, and joyful, and supported to give it my all. I drank the eLoad that was on my bike, then water for the rest of the day. I ate a bar in the first half,  a Red Bull at 90km, and gels every 20-30 minutes for the home stretch. Again, smooth as butter. My back was aching from being in aero at intensity, my hamstring was getting very loud by the last 30km, but my stomach felt great, and my energy was high. I checked my watch, did the math, and knew I could be under 5:40 if I stayed focussed in that last few km where people are beginning to coast, slow down, and prep for the run. I was stoked to finish is 5:38, good for 3rd fastest female, and scoot me from 205th woman in the swim to 15th woman off the bike. I didn't know that of course, but was stoked to know that I rode my brains out for 180km and loved it.

I love the run course in Madison. Picture 15,000 college students with nothing to do on a Sunday but drink beer and cheer. The run weaves through town, does a lap of the famous football stadium, through the college campus, along the lake, and you do it all twice. The run was not magic for me, but I felt proud of keeping the wheels on. Within a km, I knew that I had no push off my toes. I was breathing steady, but knew that I needed to keep an easy steady rhythm to avoid cramping. I could see very early on that it was going to be just fine, if I kept it boring and steady. So that's what I did. The highlight was seeing Andrew on course twice. We stopped for our kiss, and I knew his day was not magic, but he was getting it done. As it turns out he finished first in his category, despite a crash and racing without his usual shine. Rock star. I had people on route giving me all kinds of conflicting information...I was 7th woman, no 12th, no 8th. I shut all that out, determined to keep my run 'boring', shooting Red Bull and water at virtually every aid station. There was no action until the last mile, when a 43 year old streak of lighting passed me. Thank goodness she did it quickly, because I truly didn't have it in me to challenge her, despite my Red Bull fuel. As it turns out, she passed me for first place in our category. I finished less than 2 minutes behind her, in second at 10 hours and 50 minutes. I was pretty darn stoked to have met my goals. Number one: to finish happy and healthy. Number two: to get a spot to Kona, and finish this 15 year IM adventure with wind in my hair and salt on my skin.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Choose your words carefully

Like a cork on a wave, as I rise out of the trough, ready to ride the peak, I seem to be cruelly pulled back down, eventually getting spat into the shallows, wallowing in my own self-pity. OK, totally melodramatic, but it does seem that as I finally seem to be overcoming an injury, I am immediately facing a new one. Torn hamstring and hip rotators 95% mended from the unfortunate cartwheel incident in the spring, I went for a run-hike in the woods for the first time seven months later. I was ecstatic to be breathing in the mossy smells, and feeling the soft earth beneath my feet. My husband and I wove through the familiar trails like I hadn't missed three seasons. Then I started crashing...hitting the deck...8 times! Though my fitness felt great, I didn't seem to have the coordination to negotiate the rocky trails. I recovered awkwardly from 7 of those falls, and we chuckled at my new clumsy form.  On the last one, I unconsciously brought my arm over my chest to shield myself from a big rock, and my knuckle punched through my ribs. Pulled back down into the trough of the wave, I looked ahead to another 8-12 weeks of tentative training and exercise. Familiar words swam in my head, as I wallowed in the shallows. I heard them leave my mouth and I believed them to be true.


I'm on the other side of that injury, I once again see the peak of the wave. This time I have no doubt that I'll be riding that wave. At 42 years of age, something has finally clicked in my understanding of the world. There are no short cuts. Having done hard athletic events in your past does not let you skip the building blocks. Most importantly, words are very powerful.

These words began to create my self-image, and began to erode my intentions to heal. The fact is that it DOES take a long time to heal once you are no longer in your twenties, but I am sure as heck not going to heal sitting on a couch. It's all about tiny consistent steps, and being comfortable with being uncomfortable. At some point I had to learn that tiny movements, done consistently, lead to enormous change over time. I was NOT broken. I was not old, fragile, or useless. I was simply greedy and spoilt, thinking that multiple endurance feats gave me a 'get out of jail free' card. Consistent, dedicated strength sessions were not optional. Eventually 30 second intervals of running evolved to 40 minutes of slow jogging, and my hard intervals on the bike are now my recovery watts. It's happening, and now my words have changed.


Thursday, 26 June 2014

Trans Alp 2014 Mittenwald Germany to Arco Italy in Seven Days

I’m sitting on a plane with a glass of wine enroute to Munich, from which I’ll take a van to Mittenwald in Bavaria. Well, I think it’s Bavaria. That’s the funny part. As I fly across the world to spend two weeks in the Alps, I haven’t researched the towns, booked any lodging, or checked out the tourism websites. In fact, I don’t even know how many days I’ll spend in each country or the names of the mountain villages that we’ll sleep in. What I do know, is that I’m riding my bike from Germany to Italy over 7 days. I know the distances for each day, and I’ve looked at the percent grade for the key climbs. I’ve thought about the intensity and the decisions that will be made about how much to suffer on Day One to make the cut to the faster group. What I do know is that I will be met in Munich by Joerg and Toby of Magic Places, and it’s they who have the task of getting us to the race start, navigating the mountain roads to set up a feed-zone, and meeting 15 Canadian teams at the end of each stage in another glorious mountain village. While I haven’t learned a spot of German, Austrian, or Italian, I can be certain that talk will turn to the gearing chosen for the climbs, the luck of the draw for which corral each team of riders will find themselves in on race morning, and a team plan for pacing and communicating. From that unexpected phone call in the fall of 2013 inviting me to team up with the formidable Emanuela Bandol, it’s finally here...Trans Alp 2014, starting in Mittenwald Germany and finishing 950km later in Arco Italy.

It’s day 3 in Germany. We have been comfortably settled in the Post Hotel, in the picturesque town of Mittenwald....without bags, and without bike boxes. Apparently our luggage went amiss in London. It’s only Thursday, and we ride on Sunday. No need to panic...yet. In the meanwhile, we’ve been walking the streets of this lovely town, and taking in the local sights. We took a trip up the spectacular Karwendel cable car 7360 feet. Luck has not been on our side, for after paying the 60 euro, we waited just long enough for a storm to move in and ascended into a white out with torrential rain and hail. We looked at the pictures of what it should have been, and imagined the breathtaking view.

An evening stroll after dinner with my TA partner Emma Bandol. 
The boys check out the start of the climb for race day.

Some of Team Canada heading out for a ride. 

The descent from Karwendal after a white out at the top.
A most beautiful sight in this town is the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul. Our hotel window gives us a framed view of it's beauty. We have complicated feelings about the finest church in the Bavarian Alps. It took 15 years to build this masterpiece, completed in 1749. It's wonderful to day dream about that era, and how the church's role has evolved over the centuries. I'm also finding the steeple helpful for navigating the town, and finding my hotel in the evening. Somewhat less enchanting is the bell ringing….on every half hour….throughout the night, and randomly, for random durations. The 6am bell ringing is particularly interesting with a 10 minute frantic chime, which we have now interpreted to mean "Get the F out of bed and get to work!". Somehow it still holds a fond place in my heart, like a difficult relative.

Day 4 Mittenwald

I find it kind of interesting that wherever we find ourselves, we seem to look for a bit of constancy, or a bit of home. It didn't take us long to find a place for 5am tea for Andrew and coffee for Ginny. OK, full transparency….tea, coffee, and CHOCOLATE FILLED CROISSANTS. Oh my God, Is there a better way to start a day?

Still waiting for news on our bikes and bags lost in transit, we set out for a hike. The joy of Bavaria is that the hikes start right from the edge of town. It was a true feast for the eyes. Meadows and mountain peaks, ice blue river with steep rock walls. It was good to move a little and distract us from missing our bikes.

The bike boxes arrived last night! Andrew will be riding naked as his case is still lost in transit…but I'm OK with that. We built up the bikes asap and got in a quick ride before a storm moved in. Heading out of town, we were into Austria within moments. The roads were smooth, quiet, and stunningly beautiful. Hearts full and stress down a notch, we shared a picnic dinner with great friends in our room, watching Germany win a World Cup soccer game.

And now I’m flying home. 850km and 19 mountain passes later. Here are some impressions of the experience. Point form.

  • flying along in a stretched peloton, absolutely comfortable with rain water driving against my glasses spitting up from my partner’s wheel, specks of gravel in my teeth
  • descending on dry road behind a Canadian woman driving the pace on the switch backs, learning to take a tighter line, trusting the lean of the bike, and lifting off the seat to power back up to speed.
  • loving the predictable features on each climb such as the skinny German wearing short-shorts, 90s rock pumping from his van...or knowing the speeding Audi spilling out um-si-um-si-um-si would lead to a shirtless Korean passing the same bottle of coke to anyone willing to take a swig.
  • switching up racing partners for the day and sharing the adventure with Andrew
  • daily healing by the magic hands of our dynamic massage therapist Lesley

  • the morning of the first day, waiting under the eaves of the train station with my partner Emma, Andrew and his partner Dalton, as the strength of the rain began to build. 
  • Showing my partner how to teepee our bikes in the starting corral, and wishing I was wearing the the extra layers that were still sitting in my luggage.
  • feeling my jaw tighten in the cold to the point of pain and fear build as my bike began to wobble when my shivers escalated shaking on a 20km descent, soaked through to the skin 4 degrees and raining.
  • grinding up a climb for two hours with a head cold, going backwards...legs not responding to sugar or will power.
  • racing to the line on an uphill finish, following my partner making a super-human surge
  • feeling nauseous after seeing a crumpled bike frame jammed under a car trailer, with the rider on a spine board

Visually stunning
  • climbing from the valley floor up toward snow line, green merging to white and meadows evolving into majestic rock spires
  • rising into the rain clouds themselves, the whiteout gobbling up all but the cyclists immediately around us.
  • looking down on a mountain hamlet consisting of a church and a dozen stone houses just as the bell begins to toll and school children walk home via steep rocky paths
  • passing old Italian farmers taking a break from their work to watch the cyclists grind up the hills past their land
  • time slowing down as enormous cows wander across the road completely un-phased by cyclists passing in front or behind them
Thank you to Joerg and Toby of Magic Places for taking care of our every need for two weeks. Thank you to Squirt for inviting me on this adventure, and being patient with my roller coaster of emotions for over 6 months! Here are some photos of moments on and off the bike. Arrivederci TransAlp!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

God and the MRI

As a child, I spent considerable time pondering the existence of God. We didn't talk about God at home. I knew that my parents went to the Church of England regularly until they married, and immigrated to Canada. That's all I remember. It was a non-topic at home. So from about the age of seven, I thought I ought to do my own research.

I went to Catholic church with my best friend Carie. I remember sitting in Sunday school, desperately hoping that I wouldn't be called upon to read. The words were unfamiliar and stuck in my throat. I felt inexplicable shame as the children went up to receive bread, while I remained conspicuously in the pew. I also felt some fear of what I didn't understand. What did the bread have to do with the body of Christ? I felt my heart quicken if I let my eyes rest on the man hanging from the cross. My only sense was that I should somehow be apologizing for being bad, but I didn't know how.

I took care of two ponies when I was young, Dusty and Pokey. Their names suited them. As a Shetland/Welsh mix, they were as tall as they were wide. They were so lazy that they wouldn't flinch when I would leap frog from a box to jump on. I spent hours lying on their backs staring at the sky as they grazed. In my young mind, I imagined myself as a great show jumper, and set up a jumps course for these ponies. I shortened the western stirrups to mimic the English riders, and thought my will was stronger than that of my ponies. Dusty was the tallest, and hence my prize jumper. I'm not sure that we made it around my jumps course even once over an entire summer. He teased me into thinking he would jump by cantering toward my homemade log jump, then would throw on the brakes to toss me over his neck. He would look right into my watering eyes, as I got off the ground determined not to let him see my pain. Eventually, he took to grabbing the bit in his teeth and bolting, leaving me to hold on to his mane for dear life. This is where I get back to God. My make-shift jumping ring was across the street from Twyla's house. I knew this family was different from mine, but I wasn't sure quite how. The kids didn't go to school. The girls aways wore long skirts, and a little bonnet. Twyla and I somehow became friends of sorts. She would sit on the fence as I fought with my ponies, and she helped me brush them sometimes. I can't remember how it happened, but I managed to invite myself to their church. Once. In my vague recollection, I remember a church leader on stage calling out questions to the congregation. They got more and more excited as their leader inspired them to respond louder and louder to his calls. Peoples hands were in the air, many had their eyes closed, then as the fervour peaked, a woman was lifted up to the stage with the leader. She looked as though she had epilepsy. She shook, and drooled, and called out gibberish words. The whole congregation cheered for her. I held my friend's hand as she pushed toward the stage, terrified to be left alone. I spoke into Twyla's ear over the noise of the crowd to ask what was happening. I learned the woman was speaking the word of God. Speaking in tongues.

Not having found a church to ease my confusion over God, I began to speak to him myself. I began making deals. They started with sacrifice. "If I don't eat desert for 3 nights, You need to show yourself to me." The deals escalated. I can't remember how long this process took, but it peaked with me doing the scariest thing I could possibly imagine. My end of the deal was to jump out my bedroom window once it was dark, and walk all the way to the cemetery, a mile from my house. I began by touching the first post at the edge of the cemetery, and worked my way up to walking through the centre, where there was a little path between decorative bushes. Most of the time I would walk as quietly as possible, listening for danger. When I got spooked I would sprint for a moment, but then knew I hadn't kept up my end of the deal. I don't really remember how it petered out, just that I stopped making deals once my journey to the cemetery was unsuccessful.

These quirky childhood memories came flooding back this week, as I joked with my physio that I was starting to make deals with the Powers that Be. I would sacrifice all forms of racing, if only the Powers that Be would allow me to run pain-free in the trails, and join in fun family sports. I joked with the physio, but it wasn't far from the truth. Feeling very short of sleep from knee pain at night, desperately missing my 'life' of running and sport, I was ready to make deals.

In that same visit, my physio was giving me permission to run, bike, jump...anything that would inflame the knee so that the cause of the injury would be more obvious by MRI. He concurred with the surgeon. They think they know what's going on in there, but want to see it. That was last Thursday. I had a mix of excitement, thinking of what activity I would do to bash the knees, and also a fear of more sleepless nights and daily distraction with knee pain. The weekend rolled on, and I got more and more nervous about it. What if I was halfway around Kal Park, and couldn't make it back? What if I bashed them up, and they still couldn't see any injury to the tissues? As it turns out, I spent the weekend taking care of a sick little girl. She couldn't go to school on Monday, so my planned run session disappeared. Then I got sick too. Just a rotten cold, but the excitement to run had passed. Further to that, my knees had been feeling so much better over the weekend, after the physio had taped them up, that I felt I was making progress! Tuesday morning came, and I knew that I was supposed to have really sore knees by now, but I didn't. A background issue was needing to get a car to the airport for my family, as I wouldn't be able to pick them up late at night. The solution was to drive down, and ride my bike home, hopefully hammering a couple of hills to bash up the knees.

The plan was set. I pulled out my bike, and pumped up tires for the first time in 6 months. It took me much longer than I hoped to find clothing, a patch kit, bike shoes, helmet, gloves. It was like the first day of ski season, feeling like a beginner again. I took two more daytime Tylenol cold capsules, hoping my head wouldn't explode. I drove down to the airport, feeling like I was doing something really stupid, but was already committed. I parked next to the letter G, tucked the key under the wheel, and rolled away on my bike.

Easing in, I felt a little nervous next to the traffic. I thought the roads would be quieter mid-day. Within a few minutes I settled in and felt surprisingly good on the bike. I was spinning nicely, breathing fine, and moving forward. All good. I was trying not to over-analyze the knee comfort, and just ride for a bit. It was a stunning day. The sun was brilliant, and spring was clearly present on the hills around me. And that's it. Nothing happened. My knees didn't hurt more than twinges, I loved the ride, took photos of the incredible vistas, made it home, picked up my daughter to drop her with friends, so that I could drive to Kamloops for the MRI. Feeling like a big fraud. I hate to waste people's time and money. I hesitated all along for this MRI, but was encouraged by sport med doctor, the surgeon, the physio, all explaining that we needed to make sure that there wasn't an obvious reason that I wasn't seeing the progress that we all expected. Well it's done, and tomorrow I will just continue on with rehab exercises, hoping it will all be old news in a few months, and occasionally making a deal with the Powers that Be.
If you ride a little slower, you see amazing things. Check out this tree house!

I've ridden these routes a thousand times, but it was all new today.

Waiting, feeling like a fraud.

My two favourite things....small spaces, and being still.