Sunday, February 24, 2013

Two weeks until the LPC Triathlon Training Camp

Back in the fall, my brother Anthony suggested that I sign up to go to the LPC Triathlon Training Camp in Florida during March break.

I know I have a lot to learn about triathlon. Sure, I’ve read almost every book on the subject now (When I decide to do something, I start by reading every relevant book I can get my hands on), but books are only good for so much. I’ve been able to figure out how to build a training plan, how to structure my training weeks, what to watch out for in terms of injury and building distance, and a range of other things. I’ve also read some great, motivating, and funny stories by real triathletes.

What you really can’t learn from a book, however, is technique. Sure, you can read about technique – but when you’re an utter newbie, most of what you read makes no sense at all. Also, when it comes to some activities, you are almost too nervous to try things because you’re afraid of killing yourself accidentally (come on – you know it’s true!).

What you really need is someone to point you in the right direction, or to look at what you’re doing and make suggestions.

That’s easier said than done when all the people I know who do triathlon don’t live anywhere close to me. So, when my brother suggested going to camp for a week, I was intrigued by the idea.

Intrigued in a hypothetical way, that is. At the time, I didn’t think I’d be able to do it. I’d just started working independently in September – and while I was optimistic about work, I had no long-term guarantees of being able to pay my rent. I figured I needed to save all the money I could.

So, I told him the only way I could go is if I got a good project. I did have one potential opportunity on the radar – and if I got that, I figured I might be able to go to camp as a reward.

A couple of months went by. The project continued to hang nebulously over my head. As January rolled around, I knew I had to make a decision soon. While the project was creeping closer to approval, I wasn’t about to make a firm commitment to the camp without a signed contract.

And then a completely different project dropped into my lap. After getting over my amazement (the project practically fell out of the sky), I realized that I could now seriously consider whether to sign up for the training camp. I admit, it wasn’t as easy a decision as it might appear.

Why? I was anxious. Really. Really. Anxious.

Here’s the thing. I don’t train with other people. I’ve spent the last 14 months getting fit – almost entirely on my own. Sure, I have Trainer Chris – but outside of my sessions with him, I do everything on my own: swim, bike, and run.

I was terrified about the idea of going to a camp with other people and feeling completely out of my element. In my head, I figured everyone at the camp would know more than me and I’d be entirely embarrassed by my ineptitude.

So, there was the dilemma. Go to camp...with the possibility of looking like a fool, or stick to going solo – maybe not learning as fast, but with a much lower likelihood of embarrassment.

I knew the camp would be the better option. But as someone who can’t say the A-word, I was very leery of pressing “go” on this particular opportunity.

So I did what anyone in this kind of conundrum should do (no – the answer is never stick to the status quo…you should know me better than that). I called the Coach, James Loaring (yes, the same James from the Loaring Triathlon).

That made all the difference in the world. Sure, the website noted that the camp catered to everyone from beginner to elite. But how true was that, was my question. I love my brother – but since he’s a lifetime athlete, I was a bit worried he was being a bit too optimistic regarding whether my going to camp would be a good idea.

Coach James alleviated my concerns. He told me more about the structure of the camp and that everyone would be divided into different abilities for each discipline – so in some cases, I might be in the complete beginner group (the biking), while in others I might be in a more intermediate group (like running). Believe it or not, this really made a big difference…knowing the skills are divided is a good thing. I know there is a lot I can learn from more advanced folks, but at the same time, I didn’t want to ever feel like I was holding other people back.

He also mentioned that a lot of the people who go to the camp will be stronger in some areas than others – that’s a good thing too. So whereas some people might be great bikers, they might be newer swimmers, or vice versa.

That’s something I needed to hear. It made me realize that everyone going to the camp is going with the expectation that they can improve. Doesn’t matter where their starting point is – they are committed to getting better. And that’s something we all will have in common.

So I signed up (which came as no surprise to my friends. They know how my thought processes work: get an idea into my head and I’m done for, regardless of how much I suggest said idea is not in the cards).

…and now the camp is less than two weeks away. I am hastily making lists with the hopes I won’t forget anything important. I’m also trying to figure out if I need to buy anything before I go (I do need a spare pair of goggles) – and idly wondering whether I can fit my foam roller into my suitcase (I really hope so).

I’ll be keeping a record of my time at camp here on this blog (March 9-16)…so be prepared for a bit of nervous anxiety, hopefully mixed in with awesome adventures, learning – and fun!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

When running isn't enough...there's Triathlon

I love running.  Now that I’ve discovered the joy attached to a good (and even not so good) run, I expect I’ll always love putting my shoes on and running out the door.  Even when I am 90. Because running when I am 90 would be awesome. Or even 100-something like the world’s oldest marathoner.

But the truth is running is just about putting one step in front of the other, and then repeating it….sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes for a short distance, sometimes for a long one. Sure you can learn to be a better runner, or learn to run for longer periods of time…but in the end, the principle is the same. Left. Right. Repeat.

So, when you love running, but want a bit more of a challenge (or in my case something to keep me busy learning stuff for years to come), what do you do?

Fortunately, someone came up with a sport for that. It’s called Triathlon.

I’ll admit it - almost as soon as I realized I enjoyed running, my thoughts turned to triathlon as a potential new challenge.

My brother and his friends have been doing triathlon for years, so I knew what the sport was – even if the idea of ever doing it myself would’ve made me laugh up until recently. Truth is, I vaguely remember my brother once suggesting I enter a local tri. It was a few years ago now – and I am pretty sure my answer was along the lines of “Heck, no!”

My how times change.

Getting Ready for my First Triathlon

Originally, I’d planned to enter a triathlon in 2013. Since 2012 was about running, I figured I’d make 2013 about triathlon.

My tentative plan was accelerated when my brother convinced me that I should do the Loaring Triathlon in the summer of 2012. His friends James (a former pro triathlete and current tri coach) and Charlotte (owner of Loaring Physiotherapy  - a great multifaceted physio business in Windsor) put on the triathlon every couple of years. They’d be hosting the race in 2012, but not 2013.

So I signed up. In fact, one of my other brothers agreed to enter it as well (as his first triathlon) so it turned out to be another family affair – just like the Sporting Life 10k.

Of course, after I signed up I remembered that I’d never been on any kind of bike before…nor had I swam in open water since I was a kid at camp back in the 90s.

But hey, I had six weeks or so to get ready. No problem, right?

For the swim, I think I made it to the pool twice before the actual triathlon. I kind of made the assumption that I could wing my way through 400 meters based on the whole “I already know how to swim,” mentality. Not that I’d been swimming regularly in 10 years (just a minor detail, right?).

I was a bit concerned about having to swim in open water (the triathlon was in Lake Erie) - so I tried valiantly to swim outside before the tri. The challenge is the only body of water I had available to me was Lake Ontario. And you know something about Lake Ontario? It is darned cold - especially in June and July.

Seriously, the first time I went, I was barely able to dunk myself in the water. The second time, my calves cramped up from the cold the instant I hit the water. I gave up after that. Well prepared, that was me.

I did a bit better getting ready for the bike leg.

First, I borrowed my old boss’s mountain bike. I started in an empty church parking lot, with the assistance of my friend Chris (different from Trainer Chris) to make sure I didn’t kill myself. That went well, so I started riding on my own every weekend.  Eventually, I worked my way up to riding the Don Valley Park Trail (a path that has no cars) from my house down to the water and back (about 40k). I wasn’t going fast…but hey, I could do it!

I borrowed my brother’s girlfriend’s mountain bike for the actual race. So I didn’t have to go in blind, my brother and I got together the day beforehand and I tried the bike out. I had no idea how to use the gears (they twisted…which was nothing I’d seen before), but since I didn’t fall off, I figured I’d be fine. The joy of Essex County: it’s flat. I just left the bike in the same gear the whole time.

The run was my strong suit (which is funny since I’d just learned to run). I even managed to run off the bike 4-5 times before the triathlon, which I am sure was a good thing.

The Race
I showed up on race day quite nervous.
Fortunately, when my brother said it was small – he meant it. I think there were about 25-30 women in the beginner wave (which was separate from the men’s beginner wave). But for a small race, it was very well organized – well laid out, lots of people, easy instructions. The organizers made it very easy for me as a beginner not to feel overwhelmed. Plus I had almost my entire family there to cheer me on. I was definitely lucky to have that kind of support (the joy of doing my first triathlon 15 minutes away from my parents' house).

And the race was awesome. It was a million degrees (over 100F I believe), but it was sunny and Lake Erie (unlike Lake Ontario) was like a bathtub.

The Swim (400 meters) was more challenging than I expected. I really had no idea how to deal with current or anything of that nature. I felt like I was going obscenely slow the whole time and the rolling water (which was very mild) were still disorienting. Even still, I managed to finish in the middle of the pack.

Transitioning from Swim to Bike (known as T1) would have been easier if I’d thought to actually untie my running shoes beforehand. Oops. I also lost a bit of time looking for my socks before I realized I didn't bring them with me. Oops again. Ah well - no big deal. I got on my way soon enough.
The Bike (11k) was great. The roads were nice and flat and there was plenty of room. Beforehand, I had these visions of millions of bikers who would run me off the road (silly, I know)…but that wasn’t the case at all. It was very spread out. People gave everyone lots of space (which is required since you can’t ride in a group during a triathlon anyways) and lots of warning when passing.

On my mountain bike, I was pretty much tootling around compared to people on road and triathlon bikes. I felt like I was working far harder and not going anywhere close to fast (it could have been the gear I was in, too). So I got passed….a lot. Probably half of the people behind me on the swim, plus some fast guys in the men’s wave blew by me. But I was having fun, it was sunny and really – life was good!
Picture #1: Loaring Triathlon - Bike Leg

The transition from Bike to Run (T2) was pretty easy. Since I had my running shoes on already, all I had to do was leave my bike and helmet in the right spot. Easy as pie.

The Run (2.5k or so) was the best part. It was scorching out, but I made decent time anyways. All the running I did after biking must have helped. I passed a bunch of people who had passed me on the bike, which was a great feeling.

The Aftermath

Crossing the Finish Line was amazing. I think I felt more proud of finishing that beginner triathlon than even finishing my first 10k. Me - the non-athlete - swam, biked, and ran in a single race. How cool is that?
Picture #2: Loaring Beginner Triathlon - Crossing the Finish Line

I knew as soon as I crossed the finish line that I wanted to do more triathlons. And I wanted to get a real bike (and learn to ride it) so I could go faster. And I wanted to get more swimming in open water so I wouldn’t be so disoriented. And.. And… And…
Yes, I was caught by lure of triathlon: hook, line and sinker. It was just so much fun: challenging and energizing all at the same time.
Really, if you haven't done one - I highly recommend doing a try-a-tri (or beginner tri, or super-sprint). Just be warned: one will be just enough to wet your appetite.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Since you asked: before and after pics

A few people have asked me what I looked like before I started my journey down the road less travelled. That's easy enough to resolve.

Truth be told, Trainer Chris has already posted before and after pictures of me on his website - so no reason not to share them here as well...much as the before pictures make me cringe a little (although you can tell I've always been the happy type, that's for sure)!

Picture 1: Before (Feb 2011)

Here is a picture of me from a trip I went on in Feb 2011. I didn't take any official before and after shots (I really wasn't expecting this journey to turn out the way it did) - but this gives you a sense of where I started.

Picture 2: Before (Sept. 2011)
And here is another "before" picture from a tall ship trip I took from Norway to Scotland in September 2011 (only two months before I started my journey). At this point, I had no idea of what was coming, of what decisions I'd be making very shortly, or what those decisions would spawn in terms of life changes. 
A ship sailing into the unknown is another fitting analogy for my journey, I think.


And then there are my "after" shots. I don't really think these are essential. You've seen a couple of my race pics, plus you have my icon photo. But, for consistency's sake, here are a couple of good ones.

Picture 3: After (August 2012)

This is a picture of me from when I was in a friend's wedding back in August. I figure I should post at least one non-running related picture (laugh).

Picture 4: After (October 2012)
This one is of me at the end of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront - Half Marathon back in October. I think it's one of the most recent pictures I have of me.

So, there you have it...where I was then and where I am now in picture format.

But one thing you should always remember is that this journey has always been about more than weight loss to me. At it's heart - it has always been about my desire to become more healthy and fit. It still is, in fact. It's just that now healthy and fit has taken on a whole new meaning.

So, if you're starting your own journey - don't put too much emphasis on the numbers. Think about how you feel. Think about what you can do now that you couldn't do before. Those are wonderful accomplishments, even if you aren't seeing the numbers on the scale change as much as you would like.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Where am I now? And goals for 2013

I realized that my first three posts have been mostly “reminiscing”…and that you might be curious to find out where I am at now and what my goals are for the year.

Each year, a group of friends and I get together and name the New Year. We’ve been doing this for seven years now…Change, Opportunity, Transformation, Possibility, Discovery, Reinvention, Endeavour – each of these words propelled me to a unique journey over a 12 month period. In some cases, I used the Year to propel me to take one significant action (like changing my job), while in others, I did many small things.

During 2011, the Year of Reinvention, I knew I needed to do something more with the year than what I’d done so far. That and the unused fitness allowance prompted me to hire Trainer Chris.

During 2012, the Year of Endeavour, I strived to reach a noble goal: to become healthy and fit. I didn’t realize at the time that fit would be a moving target, but I certainly used the year to rocket myself to new and amazing accomplishments, all in the name of fitness. I also quit my job to start my own business so I could spend more of my life doing what I wanted – work, writing, and training.

2013 was a hard year to name. I expected (and still expect) the year to mostly be about building on the past to encourage an even brighter future. At the end of the day, it was my dad who gave me the perfect word. He has done some work at a business accelerator, which is geared to propel start-ups to new heights, and suggested I use the word acceleration.

Acceleration: Increasing the rate of change of velocity.

That was it. When I commit to a goal, I throw myself at it. I do whatever I need to do to get it done – and get it done to the best of my ability. There’s no half-assed anything when I decide to do something.

So, Acceleration really does fit, don’t you think? It’s a perfect word for a year that will be about building across all aspects of my life.

So, what do I want to accomplish in 2013?
At work, I want to build my business into something that is sustainable. Specifically, I want to be able to pay for all of my other activities (and my rent!), and hopefully get some savings too. I’d also like to find freelance writing opportunities – like writing for magazines and the like. Who knows, maybe this blog will help with that over time. Selling my book would be nice too…while also writing the next one.
In training, I want to become a much better (and yes, faster would be nice) runner, biker and swimmer. Not to mention I want to continue to get stronger/more agile/more flexible/balanced, and all that wonderful stuff  with the help of Trainer Chris.
For racing, I want to continue test my limits and see what I am capable of. I am kind of excited that this will be my second year racing (at least when it comes to running), so health/fitness permitting, I have benchmarks that I can use to see how well I have improved.
At the end of the year I want to look back and see everything I’ve accomplished and know I did my best.
Note the above are more desired outcomes than goals…they don’t come with measures of success and, in some cases, rely on other people’s decisions/actions. Not that that’s a bad thing – but to me goals have to be about what *I* can do.
So, what are my goals for 2013? Well, right now – they include:
1.       Run a marathon. Already signed up for the Amherstburg Run for Heroes Marathon on September 22, 2013. Seeing as it is my first marathon (yes, I realize that using the word first makes an assumption of future ones), my goal is really just to finish. I know running a marathon is unlike pretty much anything else, so don’t want to make assumptions about what time I might finish in. Although it would be nice to beat my brother’s first marathon time, since that might be the only chance I ever have of “beating” him.

2.     Do the Toronto Triathlon. I honestly think I could do a sprint-distance triathlon right now (assuming I didn’t fall off my bike going 0 mph) so picked the Olympic distance instead (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run). I figure none of the distances is particularly hard on its own, and in six months I should be able to work up to doing the three events together. I’ve been cautious about stating this goal – mostly because I wanted some external validation as to whether I could do it, or if I was deluding myself. That is apparently what brothers are there for though – because when I told one of mine that, he told me to just sign up for it. So, there you go. Guess I’ll be doing it. Needless to say, I plan to do a few sprint distance races before this one, which is on July 21, 2013.

3.     Break 22 min for a 5k. This is my one "official" time goal for the year. On December 1, 2012, I did my first 5k  (yes, it came after a few 10ks and 2 half marathons). It wasn’t timed though, so didn’t feel like a real race - more like a very hard training run with other people along for the ride. My watch time was 23:16, but I think in a real race I would've gone faster. So I decided I should make breaking 22 minutes a goal for 2013. I really do think I can do this, but we'll see. I also like this particular goal because it is so different. The triathlon will be around 3 hours and the marathon will be close to 4. Either way, they will both be long races - so more about "Can I finish?" than anything. This one. This one is all about speed. And running fast is really, really fun.
That’s it for now – although I expect I’ll set a few more goals as the year goes by. And of course I’ll be doing a bunch of other races, but most of them will be leading into one or more of these, which I’m calling my “priority” ones. And by priority…I mean the hardest goals on my radar right now.
The how – well, that’ll be the fun part. I am sure you’ll find out as the year goes along!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Finding joy in racing

When Trainer Chris dared me to run a 10k, I really didn’t think much about the whole “race” element. I was more concerned about the, “Will I finish this?” question, along with the very real worry about coming in dead last.

The Sporting Life 10k had more than 10,000 people in it. I knew the chances of my coming in last were pretty slim, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t worry about coming in last obsessively. I didn’t think of myself as an athlete. Even now, I hesitate to use my name in the same sentence as the “A” word…and that’s with a training regime of about 10 hours a week. If I have a hard time calling myself an athlete now – imagine what it was like when I’d only been running for a few months – and was getting ready for my first race.

I was terrified.

When race day came, you bet your sweet life I was nervous. I was also very lucky. Two of my brothers had agreed to come up to do the race with me. One used to be an athlete in school, but life and family had kept him from keeping up his fitness over the years. He decided to become fit about a month after I did (the fact I beat him at a push-up contest at Christmas may have had something to do with it). So the 10k was his first race since high school.

My other brother has always been an athlete. He does triathlons, running races – and even ran the Windsor-Detroit Marathon. Even without a lot of time to train, he is crazy fast.

So they came up to race with me, and my parents, my brother’s girlfriend, and my other brother’s family came to watch. It was a true family affair - on Mother’s Day.

I would’ve been more nervous except both my one brother and my parents were staying with me, so I didn’t have time to worry. Until the morning of, that is. When my parents drove my brother and I up to the race site, I was definitely anxious. I had no idea just how many people would be there! There were thousands and thousands.
Picture 1: My brother and I near the start
If I’d been on my own, I probably would have holed up somewhere and waited for the start. Fortunately, I wasn’t. My brother ran me through a good warm up – making sure I got some jogging in, some stretching, and generally got some of the nervous energy out of my system. He also made me feel a lot less scared. Just around the time we were ready to head to the corral (We were all starting together, despite my brothers being faster than me), we ran into my other brother. That was awesome because we got to start together.

Crossing the start line (several minutes after the start…we were in the second corral back if I recall correctly) was like taking an energy shot. I knew this was it – the beginning of my race. My chance to prove that the months of training was worth it. I was a bit afraid because my trainer had guessed my finish time as 50 – 55 minutes and, after a knee injury I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to do. I just hoped that I’d come in under 1 hour. I figured that would be pretty good for a first race.

My triathlete brother took off right after we crossed the start line. Told you he was fast! My other brother stuck with me (or I stuck with him) for about five minutes, before he got ahead of me. I didn’t see them again until the finish line.

That wasn’t a bad thing because it let me bask in the moment. In the whole energy of running with thousands of other people – and yet feeling like I was alone. It became just me and the race…me and proving myself. I remember passing Davisville (the race is right down Yonge Street in Toronto) and thinking, “Wow. I can’t believe I am here.” I think I was smiling and crying at the same time.  I was kind of glad no one I knew could see me.

Looking forward, there were thousands of people…but looking back, there were even more. It was kind of amazing and astounding at the same time. All of these people bound by one goal: to finish a race. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt such community before, not in all the time I lived in Toronto.

It was a little slippery around the aid stations. I am sure I spilled more water than I drank from the little paper cup I took at one of the water stations. I only paused once – about 7k if I remember correctly.

I was starting to get tired around the 9k mark, when I came across my parents, my brother’s girlfriend, and my other brother’s family. Now that was well timed – right when I needed a dose of energy.  I picked up steam and made it right to the end…which felt like the longest km ever!
Picture 2: Running by my parents (I was trying not to laugh)

At the end, I got a medal. I have to admit, I LOVED that about the race. Everyone who finishes is a winner. It was kind of awesome. I was just so happy with myself for finishing, and only 2 minutes behind one of my brothers.
I was beaming the rest of the day. Tired, but beaming.

Picture 3: We did it!

And that was it. Once I finished that race, I was a goner. I knew I wanted to do more races. There just is no feeling like crossing a finish line, the feeling that you did something amazing. I’ve done more running races and other races since then, but I can still remember the feeling of accomplishment I had when I crossed the finish at my first race ever. It was a moment I will never forget.

I’ve found a special joy in running – just me on a road going wherever the road leads. But there is also a special joy in racing that nothing else can compare to. I don’t know if it’s the energy. The people joined in common cause. The results which show I’m actually a decent runner.

Maybe it’s just the fact that each race is real proof that I can now do something I never thought I could. And every time I cross a finish line in the future, I hope I will remember that. Because it’s that knowledge that will keep me reaching to do more once impossible things.