(click HERE for Part 1, click HERE for Part 2, click HERE for Part 3)

When the weekly indoor workouts I had faithfully attended began to transition outside in the springtime I was all set.  I had a bike, I had a wetsuit and I had running shoes.

I wasn’t terribly sure how to actually use  any of it, but I had  it.

I’m sure I’ve chronicled some of these stories somewhere already in these blog pages but I don’t remember where exactly, so forgive me as I go through some of them again now.

My biggest fear in moving to the outside workouts was in actually riding my new (well, new to me) bike.  If you remember, the last time I had actually ridden a bike was approximately 25 years previously; a bright orange Schwinn Stingray  with a huge banana seat and these great sweeping ape-hanger handlebars that I got for my 12th birthday.  It sure as shit didn’t have any gears, or brakes that you operated with your hands so this was going to be all new territory for me.

Luckily (depending on how you look at it), the first springtime workout was going to be the group ride, meaning I was going to learn how to ride a bike in front of other accomplished cyclists.

Awesome.

A few days before the ride, in complete state of panic, I watched a few cycling videos on YouTube to see what in the hell I was supposed to wear.  I mean, surely you don’t ride bikes in track s pants do you?

Besides the pair of padded diapers and clipped in cycling shoes that I had picked up for my spin classes, I didn’t have any other cycling specific gear beyond my water bottle.  I didn’t have a nice, aerodynamic cycling jersey or fancy riding gloves so I opted to wear an old, oversized wicking shirt I had found at the Goodwill for a few bucks.  I also bought a cheap helmet and, yeah, good to go.

Here’s me in all my newbie glory:

SONY DSC

I may not have looked very pretty but, hey, I was probably only going to end up in a crumpled pile by the side of the road anyway.

Oh, and for the record, this is still the same  bike I ride today.

On the morning of the ride, I was picked up at my doorstep by another member of the group I had met and befriended over the winter, Manisha, who also conveniently worked at the local Liberty! cycle shop.  We had arranged it this way so she could at least show me how to change the gears, as well as clip myself in and out of the pedals so, hopefully, I wouldn’t make a total ass of myself.

If you’ve never ridden in clipped in pedals before, let me assure you that it’s a bit daunting at first.  I had already picked up a cheap pair of cycling shoes with SPD clips to use in my spin classes but, riding clipped in on a stationary bike is one thing, riding outside with traffic and shit is entirely another.

I was quite literally fearing for my life.

However, I did ultimately manage to arrive at our groups’ agreed upon meet up place approximately 4-5 longs kilometers away pretty much unscathed.  What this means is that I didn’t wipe out or end up as a greasy smear underneath a passing motorist.

Again, yay for the small victories!

As it happened, Bill was also leading these group rides and for the next two hours he ran us through the in’s and out’s of riding in a group formation (the same fundamentals I am teaching my daughter now – click HERE), or what’s known as a ‘peloton’ if you want to be all fancy about it.  Eventually the imminent fear that I was about to kill myself at any second began to subside and I actually started to relax and enjoy myself.

On more than one occasion, Bill would have to call me back after I had managed to get myself too far ahead of the rest of the main group.  I guess all those winter spin classes meant that I had somehow developed this new strength in my legs that I didn’t even know I had.  After months of sitting on a stationary bike at the gym riding outside was like passing through Dr. Who’s time tunnel.  I’m not sure really if my newfound “speed” was because I was good at it, or if the other better cyclists were just humoring me.

(Likely the later)

No matter, I was just having fun riding my bike for the first time in nearly two and a half decades.  What I remember most is the feeling of sheer joy that can only come with cruising along somewhat effortlessly at 30kph  down back roads that you have never been on before.  It was like I was 12 years old all over again and exploring my neighborhood and ultimately tasting freedom for the first time.

It’s a feeling I still get when I ride my bike now.

The indoor swim sessions also moved outdoors to the old canal in Welland.  These scared me at first as well.  I mean, anyone who has ever seen ‘Jaws’  is likely going to have images of being bitten in half by a creature from the deep run through their mind at some time despite the fact that the scariest thing in the Welland canal is likely a rusty shopping cart.

What spooked me even more was that I was now going to have others actually see  me in my wetsuit.   As if the sizing at the store wasn’t embarrassing enough, now I had to actually put it on in front of people.  At least at the store, I had an entire team of shop attendants to help me but now I was going to have to wedge my fatness into it all by myself.  This process alone probably lasted longer than the actual swim workout and, truthfully, for the next few weeks I was mindful to arrive well before everyone else just to repeat this struggle in stoic silence.

Thankfully, when it came to actually get in the water…I was in love.  I mean, I really  loved it.  Sure I still had the odd “duuuuuuuun dunnn… duuuuunnnn duun….duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun…”  go through my head at random points and I know that some people tend to get nervous and experience panic attacks at not being able to see the bottom of the pool and whatnot, but I found the whole thing thrilling.  I loved seeing the odd fish swim beneath me; I loved hearing frogs croak underwater; I loved the feeling of weeds brush against my face.

I still do.

I wouldn’t say I was a natural, but it certainly wasn’t hard to talk me into going for a swim after the initial few workouts that first season.  Truthfully, it never has been ever since either.  It’s easily my favorite workout of the summer.

I kept up with the running too.

I had no idea how to actually plan and implement a well-structured weekly run program, but I laced up regularly and ran around the block ad nauseum.  I still wasn’t very confident to venture out beyond my own neighborhood at that point.

The club also ran outdoor Brick workouts and I did those too.  It was likely during these specific Thursday night workouts located in Pelham that I actually started to develop a little confidence that I might actually be able to do this triathlon thing.

I got faster; I got stronger; I got fitter.

I even got thinner.

I also bought the ‘Triathlon for Dummies‘ book which, truthfully, I never read.  It just made me feel more validated as an official triathlete in a weird way.

(NoteWhen I did eventually sit down to read it months later, it was complete shit)

Somewhere down the line, I figured a test race was in order prior to actually meeting my brother on the starting line in June (we had previously arranged to race the Welland sprint distance race).  It might even be that Bill himself suggested I do just that.  I do remember though him telling me to forget the whole “try-a-tri” thing and just jump straight into a Sprint distance race.  I think my heart likely stopped when he said that but not wanting to appear cowardly, I agreed and signed up along with some of my other training buddies.

However, I couldn’t also help but notice this on the on-line registration form:

“I acknowledge that a triathlon is an extreme test of a person’s physical and mental limits and carries with it potential for death, serious injury, and property loss.”

What.  The.  Fuck?

I almost backed out then and there.

Anyway, that first race came in late May in Milton, Ontario.  I drove up with Jeremy, one of my new friends from the TryForce group and although I’m pretty certain we must have talked on the way up, I remember nothing of the trip aside from experiencing a complete and utter anxiety attack that I was in over my head…way over my head.

Surely, I was to multi-sport what belt sanders are to nipples.  I had an entry level wetsuit, an old bike, a pair of discounted tri shorts and a cheap top I had picked up at Zellers the night before and cut off the sleeves to appear more “sporting” and a pair of Dollar Store sunglasses.  I mention this all now because when I rolled into transition, I remember being completely overwhelmed at seeing all the thousands of dollars’ worth of fancy, carbon fiber, space-age looking equipment.

I understand now that all this stuff isn’t necessarily important (in fact, much of it is about as about as useful as a bucket of armpits) and that you can’t simply buy results, but I didn’t know that then and I felt like a complete fraud.  If I had any doubts before, I was absolutely panicked now.

Jeremy and I milled around after we had set up in transition, careful to lay everything out as I had been instructed, and he introduced me to a few of the pro’s that he knew who were also competing.  They were all standing around fussing over their bikes and discussing their anticipated goal times, etc..

They were all relaxed and focused; almost bored looking.  I was definitely envious and maybe even a little star struck.

Me?

I was a total duck in water; calm and collected on the outside, but under the surface my lizard brain was working overtime on freaking out.

Suddenly, in what might be considered as a charitable moment of comradery for the obviously poor, fat guy on the periphery of the group, one of them (Hi, Wolf!) turns to me and asks: “what’s your goal today?”

“Umm, I don’t what to shit myself”.

“…or die”, I quickly added.

They all laughed, but I was being deadly serious.

Eventually, the announcer starting calling the racers out of transition to the water’s edge.

Oh God.

“The end is nigh”, I thought.

By this time I was in full blown panic mode.  I pictured myself being literally beaten to death in the water (like THIS) at the hands (not to mention knees, elbows and feet) of 300 other more capable triathletes.  Shit, I might as well just roll myself up in a carpet and harness myself to an outboard motor to be dragged all over the lake while everyone else took turns punching me in the face.  At that precise moment, that option was more enticing.

Shit, water boarding seemed like more fun.

From here, I’m just going to quote word for word from another blog post where I’ve recounted this exact moment before:

“When the time came to enter the water before the race’s official start I found myself smack dab in the middle of the pack and I totally freaked out.  Certainly my imminent death by drowning was at hand. So much so was my fear at the time that I immediately moved to the back of the pack with the old ladies and doggie paddlers.  Certainly, I was a little more skilled (maybe) but damn if I wasn’t terrified of being in that washing machine.

When the race started, I literally waited for nearly everyone else to get on with it before I even started.  I remember watching the flurry of white water erupt from the main gaggle of swimmers and it looked absolutely chaotic.  Eventually, I started myself and it wasn’t long before I had joined the fray of flailing body parts, except, it wasn’t as bad as I had thought.  Dare I say it, I actually found it exhilarating.  Sure I look some lumps and I’m confident I gave some back in return but, all in all, it wasn’t bad.  It was tough, sure, but it wasn’t as ‘scary’ as I had initially thought it was going to be.”

In fact, I had stopped being so scared and I think I might have even been smiling, or so I am told anyway.  Maybe it was just my face had been contorted into a permanent rictus of fear…I’m not sure.

Either way, I had survived the first leg and I was now onto the bike, of which, I was a little more confident.

Here’s me, blubber and all getting out of wetsuit in transition:

4448_119874720976_2447545_n

Now, anyone who’s raced Milton before knows that there’s a huge ass monster hill early on in the bike course.  Of course, I didn’t know that because I didn’t have the wherewithal  then (i.e. common sense) to actually research the course prior to racing it.  So as I rounded the third corner, I saw ahead of me what looked like a trail of ants climbing up an ant hill, except those weren’t ants, those were riders making their way up the Sixth Line Hill (approximately a kilometer long) in the distance.  This was easily going to be the biggest hill I had ever attempted.

Fuck me.

I think I aged about 25 years in that moment.

Not being the best climber at that point, I dropped my gear into the easiest gear I could get into and pedaled as if my life depended on it and I started to pass others riders who were walking their bikes up the hill instead.  My lungs burned and my heart was beating faster than a Spider monkey jacked up on Mountain Dew…but I made it.  I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t someone at the top in tight lederhosen and trumpeting on enormous flugelhorn to signal my arrival at the summit, but I digress.

The rest of the course is a blur because after that first monster of a hill, everything else paled in comparison.  I do remember going down the Sixth Hill Line later on though, and that was infinitely more fun.

Inertia is the fat man’s best friend don’cha know?

Anyway, I rode back into transition feeling pretty proud of myself and figuring that things were going well despite my feeling like I was going to throw up.  Thankfully, I had also managed to avoid shitting myself thus far.

Here’s that exact moment:

4448_119888760976_3131905_n

However, as soon as I put on my running shoes and started running, whatever fun I was having quickly melted away.  I couldn’t feel my feet.  Like, I literally couldn’t  feel my feet striking the ground and I started to worry that I done some kind of severe nerve damage to myself.

I figured that there was really nothing I could do about it at this point so I just kept on plodding along in my own Bataan Death March toward the finishing line.  It certainly wasn’t my finest moment as far as running is concerned and I’m pretty sure I died a thousand deaths along the 7.5 kilometer run course.  I’m even pretty sure that all the old ladies and doggie paddlers began to pass me as well but I didn’t care, as long as I was still alive and shit free I was happy.  In fact, The Coach, of whom I was just getting to know, whizzed past me somewhere along the way too.

Eventually, I did start to feel my feet and legs again as the bike weariness began to wear off and I instantly wished they hadn’t because everything hurt.  However, I am a stubborn son-of-a-bitch if nothing else and I managed to make it to the end where all my peers and friends were there to greet me.

Here’s a picture of that  exact moment:

4448_119874765976_1841166_n

Notice the smile on my face.

I was exuberant.

I mean, it sucked  of epic proportions but I was extremely proud of myself.

Most importantly, I had crossed the finish line 100% shit free.

For the first time in years, it felt like I had accomplished something of real significance and I was definitely hooked.  Suffice to say that I placed myself in voluntary traction on my couch for the entire next day with a bowl of Doritos.  I’m sure I even did and said all those annoying things that rookie triathletes tend to do (click HERE) as well.  I probably didn’t take my medal off for weeks.  I just couldn’t help myself.  I felt almost reborn in a weird kind of way.

I would go on to complete five more triathlons that summer, each time I got a bit faster and a little more race savvy.  And, oh, that race with my brother that started this whole crazy triathlon crazy train?  I beat him.  And then I beat him again  three weeks later in his “re do”.

I’m not trying to brag or anything, but:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aiAdL8yy1Q

Riding on my wave of uber-confidence I even participated in the ‘Run for the Grapes’ half marathon at the end of that summer, but that’s a completely different story of hellacious misery.

So, yeah, that’s it.  That’s more or less how I went from cheeseburgers to triathlon  over the course of two years.  And I’m still at it, of course.  I’ve learned a great deal since then and I like to think I’m much better at it to boot.  The funny thing is, I’ve grown beyond these “short distance” sprint events have evolved to become more of a long distance specialist..like I could have ever seen that  coming!

That’s not to say that I haven’t experienced my fair share of obstacles and setbacks – shit, these blog pages are filled with them – but I’ve also learned that that’s just all part of the process and part of what makes this sport such a unique challenge.  One I hope that I will continue to participate in and enjoy for years to come…unless I do  actually shit myself.

Because if that ever happens…I’ll be taking up croquet.

“Riding with Fabia”

Posted: September 28, 2016 in Bike
Tags: ,

Summer is finally over, meaning that I have to begin focusing on the upcoming Ironman re-do in July; let’s just say that I have unfinished business there (click HERE).  Therefore, the “training plan” is about to change to be more run and swim focused through the autumn and winter months as biking season begins to wind down.  I’m already in the pool twice a week building a solid base of 6000-7000m weekly, and I’m now running shorter interval runs (3x a week) anticipating a return to my regular fartlek and long progression runs in another month or so.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m giving up the bike just yet, no.  It’s just that I’m not really “training” on the bike at the moment by involving myself in weekly “Hammerfest” rides anymore.  Instead, I’ve been doing some sweep riding for charity (click HERE) and soon I’d like to begin breaking out Snowflake more regularly and actually learn how to mountain bike properly.

However, there is another type of riding that I’ve been enjoying more frequently as well – cycling with the kiddo.

14480671_10154396707870977_384844982912467854_oJust recently, we introduced HRH  to a proper women’s road bike (thanks Colette!).  We replaced the clip pedals with normal pedals, gave it a decent tune up and, Bob’s your uncle, we’re now riding together – regularly – 2 to 3 times a week.

It’s a whole new world for her.

On these rides, I’ve been giving her the crash course on how to use her gears effectively so she can manage a decent pace (for an 11-year-old anyway), otherwise known as the delicate art of “cadence”.  She’s no lover of hills (yet) – like her mom – but we’ve practiced how to get up and over them anyway.  We’ve practiced how to draft properly and she has become rather proficient at riding on my wheel.  We’ve even practiced the dynamics of riding in a group (communicating, hand signals, clearing intersections, etc.) on the occasions we have invited another cycling buddy along for the ride.  We’ve practiced how to drink on the bike as well as how to ride safely in traffic.

And, yes, we’ve even practiced how to spit and wipe your nose whilst riding too.

You know: the fundamentals.

And I admit, she even has her own Strava account as well as her own special sprint segment of which she is now gunning to be the KOM.

img_0856In other words, we haven’t just been going around the block any more like we did last summer during our ‘Tour de Ridgeway’ outings, no sir.  This year, now that she has the proper tools, “Fabia van Hall unt Hauser” has reinvented herself as a serious Grand Tour rider, so to speak.

Meaning, we’ve been doing some decent distance.

So far, we have managed to complete a whopping 45k ride as our longest ride to date, and then we also complete a few other shorter, fun rides (weather permitting) that more or less explore all the back country roads in and around our area that she has never had a reason to go down before and, likely, never would have been able to get to on her own pedal power.

Remember, after 10-11k last year on her little kid’s bike – her legs were toast.

I think the most fun part of it (for me anyway) is getting to witness that sense of accomplishment and, ultimately, that “freedom” that comes from the accomplishment of completing some serious distance, especially after she realizes that she has ridden out to Port Colborne, Stevensville or Fort Erie…all by herself.

1We have even set our own goal now to “train” towards to be tackled in the next 2-3 weeks or so, in that we’re going to ride from our home here in Ridgeway to her grandparent’s place in St. Catharines – a total of approximately 57-60k which, for her, will be quite the epic journey.

Stay tuned, folks.

What this all means for me besides being a fun way to wind down my riding season knowing that early morning trainer rides are likely in my near future (never say never, honey), is that I get to share my love of riding with my daughter and spend some quality time in the saddle together. And, believe you me; our conversations have about as many boundaries are our chosen cycle routes these days.

This is definitely something I can see us doing a lot more of and bonding over in the future and as she grows older and more capable, I may even have myself my new riding/training partner in the making.

Clara Hughes – watch out!

The nice thing about swimming is that you don’t immediately have to deal with idiots.  It’s not like, say, the gym, where everyone is front and center and quite often in your face.  I mean, they’re there, of course, but because you’re swimming (and by happy consequence, trying not to drown) you don’t necessarily have to acknowledge them; much less have a conversation with them.

But every now and again, some moron will try to assert himself by engaging me in some ridiculousness or other.

Today was just such a day.

For the first 45 minutes or so, my swim workout was going according to plan; warm up, a few drills and the beginning of my main set complete with paddles and fins.  I have long now established myself in the morning echelon of pool regulars and, typically, we have all sorted ourselves out by speed to fit neatly into the Slow, Medium and Fast lanes as we are all apt to do.  It took some time of course, but I like to think that we’ve all since sorted it out and have moved past those initial few hiccups when I first started swimming at the Port Colborne YMCA.

In other words, we all get along now.

It’s not like I don’t like sharing a lane, but if you’re one of those people – “Floaters especially” (click HERE for more info on ‘Swim Types’) – who like to do God-knows-what at a relative snail’s pace, well, stay out of my Fast lane.

But, again, all the morning swimmers (myself included) have now sorted these issues out and we all play nicely within our own designated lanes in blissful harmony with one another.

It’s glorious.

Until the Swim Doofus shows that is…such as he did today.

I knew I was in trouble the second he plopped down ceremoniously (read that as: nearly on top of me) as I coasted into the wall after one of my 250m intervals.

Not wanted to compete with him, I asked him if we could just split the lane and he nodded in quiet agreement and set about arranging his snorkel and those silly “aqua gloves” that regular aquafuck aquafit patrons like to use (click HERE).

Yes, I could have mentioned that he was in the Fast lane and might be happier in a slower lane, or even the UNUSED lane further down the pool but I decided that silence was the better part of valor and simply figured that he would either be done early, or just move over on his own accord after I raced past him half a dozen times.  That notwithstanding, I only had about another 20 minutes of intervals to endure before I would be exiting the pool myself.

Begrudgingly I carried on and the Swim Doofus proceeded to seizure his way down to the other end of the pool.

After another interval I coasted into the wall (breathless I might add) and the Swim Doofus was also there, apparently resting after his 50m of near drowning.

Swim Doofus“So you like to swim, eh?”

Me (after 10 seconds of gasping for air):  “Sure.”

Swim Doofus:  “Me too,”

Umm, that’s great?  I think classifying whatever it was he was doing as “swimming” was questionable but I digress.  I support his form of healthy activity, nonetheless.

Swim Doofus:  “How far you going?”

Me:  “I’m not sure.  I’ll tally it up at the end”.

And then I pushed off the wall to begin my next interval.  And, hey, it’s not that I intended to be abrupt or rude, but my plan allows for 10 second breaks and 10 seconds were up, like, 15 seconds ago.  A plan is a plan and so, no offense, I gotta go, dude.

And we both went back to our routines; me to swimming and he to whatever the hell it was he trying to do.

As I finished my next interval two and a half minutes later, the Swim Doofus was there again.

Swim Doofus:  “So, how fast are you going?”

Me (after the perquisite 10 seconds of regaining my composure):  “I’m not sure”.

Swim Doofus:  “Well, it sure looks fast.”

Me:  “Thanks.”

What I was really thinking in my head was:

“Well, gee, thanks for the validation that I am in fact swimming in the right lane, so how about you move your slow ass over a few lanes, eh?”

But again, I opted for silence and simply pushed off for my next interval.

For the next 2 or 3 intervals, I missed the Doofus at the wall completely as he was somewhere mid-lane splashing around, inevitably trying to keep himself afloat with his stupid gloves and snorkel and shit.

Thank God.

But, eventually, fate caught up with us again and there we were at the wall again.

Swim Doofus:  “Hey, you would definitely know…”

Now, this type of introduction to a topic kind of annoys the shit out of me.  I mean, I give myself credit for being a clever fella but there’s certainly no guarantee that I definitely  know anything, so just ask the damn question already without the whole dramatic set up that will only result in me feeling like a total ape if I can’t in fact answer that query.

But I digress…

Swim Doofus:  “How many laps are in a mile?”

I looked at him incredulously.

Is he fucking shitting me?

I just shrugged my shoulders (as politely as one can when they’re currently incapable of speech, gasping for air and, really, don’t give a flying shit) and simply pushed off the wall for my last interval.

Of course, that wasn’t before I heard the Doofus also mutter:

“Fine.  Be that way…idiot.”

Motherfucker!

I flew – flew! – the next 250m  with the intent of being back at the wall in time to set this moron straight.  Unfortunately, I guess he’d had enough of his near-drowning and decided to exit the pool so I didn’t get that opportunity.

Here is what I wish would have said:

  1. As last I understood it, Canada is a metric country so I really have no idea of how far a mile is, especially considering that…
  2. This is a metric pool, meaning that….
  3. I’d have to do the necessary calculations in my head which is currently impossible given that I am…
  4. Trying to complete my work out…
  5. My heart rate is about 156bpm…
  6. I can’t breathe…
  7. And, lastly – and most importantly – I don’t give a shit. So…
  8. Get out of my face…
  9. Quit interrupting while I’m trying to get my swim on…
  10. And do your damn math.
  11. You tool.

Not don’t get me wrong, I think I’m actually a pretty nice guy and I think that I genuinely get along with just everybody in the pool.  I even don’t mind sharing a lane if it’s busy and, hey, I even like to chitchat when I’m on a break at the wall…providing I’m resting and not mid-interval.

However, I do not like being interrupted when I’m clearly not resting and, for all intents and purposes, I’m (get this) working out…strange as that may seem.

Needless to say, I don’t appreciate the distraction and this doofus clearly wasn’t getting the message.  I mean, would he stop a marathoner mid-race to ask how far he’d gone, or how fast he’s running?

Likely not.

I don’t see this as being any different, so you can either wait for me to be done and ready to entertain your silly bullshit or just piss off altogether and simply don’t ask me dumb ass questions mid-workout.

This isn’t social hour.

Oh, and as far as your leaving all in a huff:

santo-condorelli

Okay, so maybe I can be a bit of an elitist asshole.

The Big Move 2016

Posted: September 21, 2016 in Lifestyle
Tags: , , ,

It’s been a year already and that means that the time has come yet again for one of my favorite events of the riding season, The Big Move Cancer Ride in support of the Walker Family Cancer Center at the St. Catharines hospital.  This will be my 8th year participating in the event and my 7th working in the capacity of the “Tail End Charlie” (click HERE for previous years’ reports).

Yup, that’s me…the nameless guy who finishes dead last at the tail end of the entire parade.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’d have it no other way.

Here’s a little video summary of last year’s ride (you can see you’re truly at the 51 second mark):

Given the crappy conditions we rode in last year (click HERE for a little reminder), today was going to be glorious; bright, sunny, and not too stinking hot.  A perfect day for riding.  So there was no trepidation on my part this morning as there was last year and once again I sprang out of bed at the ripe hour of 5:00am.

Exactly like this:

Similarly, this was the third year that I have volunteered with my family who would be working themselves in the support van along the 25k route making sure the riders themselves were supported as well as all the volunteer and marshaling stations along the way.

We arrived together on site at 7:00am sharp so the girls could get to work helping get the truck loaded and the rest stations set up out on the course.

Here’s our obligatory family selfie:

14316878_10155258915813475_3572505366224749184_n

Me?

I stood around drinking coffee.

Not the smartest thing to be doing given I would have to get myself undressed about a gazillion times in order to take my gazillionth pee.  But there really wasn’t much else for me to be doing until the ride started except keep warm (it was a little on the cool side) and just take it all in.

There are certainly a lot of moving pieces come ride day to deal with and it never ceases to amaze me what an amazing job the organizing staff do in making it all come together.  I mean, I just have to pedal.

Easy, right?

Well, often it’s not and it can be rather like this on the morning of the ride:

14322757_1106866459362948_6247926959917851783_n

But, I digress.

For the most part, I just pedal.

However, there are just so many other things going on to account for in order to make the day successful and enjoyable for everyone.

I’m sure the organizers checklists look something like this during the days leading up to ride day:

1

It really is amazing.

Kudo’s to them for being able to manage it all.

At 8:00am the organizers began calling to the riders for the 100k ride (my route) to begin making their way to the starting line.  Being the “Tail End Charlie”, I gravitated to the back with the other sweep riders.  This year, I was honored and excited to be riding with Kathleen, an ICU nurse at the St. Catharines hospital whom I was fortunate to ride with two years ago.  Kathleen is genuinely kind, supportive and a very capable rider, so I felt very lucky that I was going to get to be in her company all day once again.

I find the opening speeches prior to the ride very motivational.  You get to hear a few personal stories on why the ride is so important to other riders.  Everybody has their own inspiration for participating in The Big Move Cancer Ride.

Here’s my own:

14203222_10155258915758475_7803786779647873208_n

At 8:15am, the ride got under way.

Here’s a photo of us as we rolled out:

14379788_1117357128301601_4946836287842148190_o

Those two figures in the hideous yellow vests at the tail end are Kathleen and I (she’s on the right and I’m on the left).

She definitely looks better in her cycling shorts.

The rides begins by heading down Vansickle Rd, left on Pelham Rd. and then directly up the monster climb at Rockway Glen.  However, just as we were starting our way up the climb we got word from our sweep wagon that four riders had started a bit late and were now behind us.  I circled around that hightailed back to greet them just as they were approaching the hill.

Ashley was the last rider to reach the hill and with a little encouragement and suggestions on how to use her gears more effectively, she managed to get up the hill with a lot of huffing and puffing.  In fact, she didn’t even stop at the aid station at the top, she just kept on trucking and I would see her again for the next four hours.

However, Kathleen was there and she was just starting out with the last two stragglers that she had assisted to the top of Rockway.

Perfect.

Our little tail end group had found its way back together again.  In the sweep business, this is definitely a good thing as everybody is then present, accounted for and, most importantly, safe.

I am sensitive to the riders at the back of the pack as they somehow think that this is in some way a bad thing, or that they are failing at something.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, if I had to relate to you what it can be like at the back of the pack, I’d offer you this amazing picture:

14292516_10155259558038475_3095678151169472222_n

I’m not in this picture, nor is this even my route.  But this picture taken by Kelly (my wife) from the support van, perfectly captures everything I love about “sweeping”.  This rider was just two weeks out from her last cancer treatment and here she is finishing up her 25k ride with a little help from the Sweep Riders.

Out-freakin-standing.

Was it hard?

Yes.

Did she do it?

Yes.

Is she deserving of all the respect in the world?

Abso-freakin-lutely!

She’s an absolute hero.

I just can’t express how meaningful this image is to me.

Well done, sweeps!

Anyway, today, my (our) little group at the back of the 100k route happened to consist of Stacey, a kindergarten teacher, and her friend Jamie (my apologies if I have your name wrong) whose father had passed away from cancer last year.  She had purchased herself a new bike and trained all summer long for this event, even managing to ride the entire 100k distance once a week for the past three weeks.  And knowing how the weather has been ridiculously hot and humid for the past month or so, that’s a huge  accomplishment in and of itself!

Unfortunately, today she was under the weather with a flu bug that had been passed on by one of her students.  What this meant then is that she was constantly fighting waves of nausea throughout her entire ride as well as fluctuating energy levels due to the fact she hadn’t been able to hold down anything substantial in days.  Any lesser rider would have packed it in well before the ride had even started…but not Stacey.

This is the perfect example of the strong mindset that most riders enter into The Big Move with.  They are determined, motivated and inspired and they’re not about to give up…at any cost.  I feel then that it’s my prime responsibility to assist them in ensuring that these goals are met.

I mean, how could I not?

So if they’re committed, then so am I; come Hell or high water.  Sometimes (as there was last year) there’s a bit of both.

And with Stacey, she was all in… 100k or bust.

One of the things I find that’s helpful with “struggling” (and I use that term very loosely) riders is to take the lead and allow them the opportunity to “draft” on my wheel, meaning I pull through the wind and thereby minimizing the amount of resistance they experience allowing them to maintain a manageable pace.  Not all riders are confident in riding so close to another rider, so I use this as an opportunity to teach the some basics of good group riding.  And with Stacey, once she got accustomed to it she pretty much stayed on my wheel as often as she could allowing her to keep moving along nicely.

One of my favorite things about The Big Move is the rest stop at ‘First Incounters’, at the corner of Hwy 27 and Victoria Ave..  In actuality, every rest stop is pretty awesome as the volunteers there offer so much support and much needed encouragement to the weary riders…it’s fantastic.

But ‘First Incounters’ is near and dear to me, largely because of Shirley Martyk and her family.

Shirley has volunteered at the First Encounters rest station for a few years now and besides being one of my favorite people ever, she also has cookies – homemade cookies.  And it’s these cookies that kept me going for the last 25 kilometers.  These are no ordinary cookies, believe you me!   In fact, Shirley even brought little baggies of these cookies in for all the sweep riders to the previous weeks’ Volunteers Meeting on the off chance that there weren’t any left when we arrived on ride day.

How amazing is that?

Fortunately, there were lots left when we arrived at ‘First Incounters’ so I was all like:

pup6mc

I have no shame.

It was here though that I began to get a little concerned for Stacey.  While I appreciate how sick she was and unable to keep anything down, I knew that we were essentially “chasing the dragon” in that if she didn’t eat something – anything – there was a very serious likelihood that she wouldn’t make it to the end.

After all, the body cannot function on will power alone.

We coaxed her into eating half a protein bar and although I know she didn’t want it, nor did she enjoy it, she chomped it down reluctantly and after a few hugs and waves goodbye, we were off again down River Rd…aaaaand directly into a head wind.

Yay.

Fortunately, I have no problem riding at the front and blocking the wind so we reformed our little peloton and rolled out along River Rd. into the second half of the course which, truthfully, is my favorite of the course.  Here we also got to see other riders as they rode past us in the opposite direction and we received lots of waves and support in the form of “keep going”, “you got this”, “you’re doing great”, etc.  This is the kind of motivation that struggling riders need to hear and, lucky for us, there was lots of it.

(Thanks everyone)

We had some trouble along Concession 6 in Wainfleet as Stacey’s stomach began to reject the half a protein bar we’d force fed her only a few minutes ago but she was able to regroup quickly and we continued riding.

Turning back onto Riverside Dr. (Hwy 27) was fun as the headwind we’d fought on the way out and then again down Concession 6 was now directly at our backs and, hey, this is what cyclists live for.

Time to ride.

We formed up our little group again and off we were…temporarily.  We were cruising fine when we had our first flat tire of the day…mine.

I let my little group ride off without me as the support van pulled up behind and I set about the business getting it fixed up and back on the road.  It took me about 5-6 minutes in total I guess to get everything straightened away; just long enough to fall well behind the rest of the group but, here’s my real fun began…the chase back up.

Like last year I used this opportunity to go all Tour de France by drafting behind the support van at nearly 50kph  back to the intersection at First Incounters (about 7-8 kilometers in total).  It felt good to open up the throttle on the legs for a little bit and it about the fastest I’ve ever covered that distance before, minus descending down hills of course.

Having said that, I was definitely redlining it at one point but this is where I channel the memories of my own mom and dad and just keep applying the power to the pedals. I don’t know what it says about me that I like to suffer a bit periodically, so read into that as you may.

Soon, I left the support van behind and veered left on Victoria Ave and then right again on River Rd., still desperate to catch up to my flock.

However, when I did catch up upon turning north on Church Rd., my heart sank.  Stacey and Kathleen were sitting together by the side of the road and Stacey did not look terribly well.  Apparently she had experienced a dizzy spell and made the smart decision to take a break (smart thinking, Stace!).  No doubt that our attempts at chasing the dragon were starting to take effect in that her inability to keep anything down was beginning to pay with her energy levels.

Of course, this didn’t deter her resolve to continue on at all and after the spell passed, we were on our way again…albeit slowly.

So we had a bit of a conundrum now.  Given that Stacey was in no way ever going to back out of her commitment to finish (and power to her), we were running the risk now of being far enough behind that there was the very real chance that intersections up ahead were no longer going to be open for us to pass through safely.  Likewise, just up ahead was the long gradual climb up Cataract Rd. immediately followed by the short summit up to Effingham Rd. back up to Hwy 3 and onward to Tice Rd.  There was a real risk now that these efforts – in her current condition – might have ended Stacey’s quest to complete the full ride for good.  After all, all the motivation in the world isn’t any help when your body is 100% drained of it’s necessary stores of energy.

Not good.

A quiet decision was made then to reroute us around those climbs.  And I’m sorry if you’re just realizing this now Stacey upon reading this, but please understand that it was a judgment call in order to help you complete the ride safely as we all knew that having to abandon the ride would have been the far worse option had those climbs gotten the better of you.

But here’s the great thing, our new route also meant that we wouldn’t necessarily have to sacrifice any of the mileage meaning that, ultimately, her goal of completing the 100k ride would still be honored.

Promises are promises after all.

Unfortunately, the rerouting also meant that others riders were now behind us after continuing on for a few more kilometers so I had to hustle back in order to make sure that all those riders were being herded back together again safely towards the finish line.

After the final rest station along Cream St.and another heroes welcome for the riders, Kathleen and I continued on with a sole lone rider – Ashley, whom I had helped up the Rockway Glen climb at the beginning of the day no less – and together we all rode the last few kilometers back to Club Roma again.  As per usual, we peeled off at the end to roll across the finish line dead last once again, after all the other riders had finished successfully.

I was very happy to see Stacey and Jamie there with their families and very relieved to hear that she had rolled over the finish with her odometer reading 100.1k exactly.

Mission completed – hugs all around.

There were no finish photos of me this year but there was certainly was a highly-anticipated hot pasta lunch saved for us by the amazing volunteers and, maybe, even an alcoholic beverage or two.

Another successful year complete.

As a final word: Stacey, understanding that you may not have been at your best on this particular day, I absolutely think that what you accomplished in lieu of it all was nothing short of heroic and I consider myself very lucky to have to have shared the experience with you.

Best wishes and happy riding.

As for everyone else, I’ll see you next year…for sure.   Maybe I’ll see you at a rest stop, or as you ride past in the opposite direction (make sure you wave!).

However, if I’m lucky, we’ll even get to ride together.

 

(click HERE for Part 1, click HERE for Part 2)

The moment I hung up the phone with my brother, the panic started to set in and I started to question my decision.

What in the sweet Sam Hell have you gotten yourself into?

What on God’s green earth makes you think you can complete a triathlon?

You know you’re going to shit yourself, right?

It never ended and these types of nagging questions induced night sweats and kept me awake for the next week or so.

The first of the new triathlon workouts was to be a run-specifc workout and I was absolutely beside myself with terror.

It didn’t help matters that it was occupied by all these ridiculously skinny, athletic looking types.  By comparison, I looked like a disadvantaged cousin who had just stepped off the turnip truck for a weekend visit.  I didn’t own any fancy “running gear”, and the only pair of shoes I owned was the same pair of sneakers I had purchased from a discount store when I first started walking.  They were well worn in by this point and smelled like pits of Hades.

I felt hopelessly out of place.

The workout was a workout that took place on the 200m track upstairs at the gym and was run by a guy named Devin who, himself, looked like a thoroughbred greyhound.

The workout itself was completing a few intervals around the oval track at a quick pace, interspersed with some bouts of walking recovery.  I hated the running parts, but I totally rocked the walking recovery.  When I did run, it certainly wasn’t very fast and I got lapped by the other gazelles quite regularly.  It was very discouraging and I was sweating like the pig who knows he’s dinner.

Sure I used the elliptical and treadmills regularly but actually running  was a very different beast that I was not yet accustomed to.

Fortunately, Devin was a great guy and very encouraging and after 30 minutes or so of huffing and puffing my way around the track, he congratulated me on a job well done.  In fact, everybody congratulated me on a job well done.  And, hey, despite experiencing at least a dozen heart attacks and near death experiences, I was proud of my accomplishment too.  It was the first time I had actually ran anywhere  since grade school.

The next workout that week was the dreaded “Brick” workout.  By this time, I had already consulted the Google box on the subject and had learned that brick workouts are triathlon specific workouts aimed at learning to run on fatigued legs.

Goodie.

I’d already had my first taste of running on fresh legs and I didn’t like it.  Likewise, my only familiarity with “spinning” was watching all the cardio bunnies through the window in the gym’s spin studio in between sets of weights.  Judging by the pained expressions on their faces, it didn’t strike me as something that I would enjoy either.

Put the two together?

rs_500x300-151120100551-giphy_1

I figured though that seeing as how these workouts were going to be a primary staple in my weekly routine in the coming months, I had better get acquainted with this beast called “Spinning” so one evening I decided to cinch up the ‘ol apple sack and signed up to participate one of the regularly offered spin classes.

I had no idea what to expect exactly and I easily twice the size of anyone else in the class.  I stealthily slinked into the back of the class, mounted a bike – not having any clue on to properly position myself  – and just started mimicking what everybody else was doing; namely, pedaling.

Pedaling fast.

The instructor was playing this high speed techno music at top volume and was telling everyone repetitively to “visualize our destination”.

Geez, I didn’t realize that this was also supposed to be some sort of spiritual journey as well.

Who knew?

Well, what I can tell you for certain is that if our destination was meant to be the light at the end of a very long white tunnel, I was certainly on the right track.  My heart rate was beating like a jack rabbit on crack, I was forming puddles of sweat on the floor underneath my bike and, worst of all – my ass was killing me.  In fact, everything below the waistline was on fire.  For the next two days or so I was walking around as if I had just completed a two week donkey ride through the Sierra Madres.  Remember that I had no concept of “wicking” fabrics or proper cycling apparel.

The very first thing I did the day before my first brick class was buy a pair of padded cycling shorts and I felt absolutely ridiculous as it was like I was wearing some sort of adult diaper.  However, if this is what it took to keep my fat ass and, subsequently, my family jewels from being set aflame, so be it.

To say I was anxious about the first brick class would be the understatement of the century.   The class was full of the same gazelles from the run workout earlier that week plus some new rather sleek-looking folks who were already talking about all the races they had signed up for.

I started to panic.

Here I was, a fat guy in Depends amid a host of ultra-fit athletic types who – clearly – had done this before.  They had the right gear, the proper clip-in cycling shoes, and they knew the lingo.

What in the hell had I gotten myself into?

The instructor’s name was Bill and, like Devin, he was a pretty cool guy.  Bill was already 60 years young and, as it turns out, a fountain of information.  He helped me adjust my bike properly and explained how all the gears and settings on the bike worked; something that had clearly been emitted during my first spin class.  It’s not that this made it any easier mind you, but it did give me a bit of added confidence that I was now doing things correctly rather than just fudging my way along at the back of the class.

For 90 minutes – yes, 90-goddamn-minutes – we spun our asses off and at certain points, hopped off our bikes and went up to the track to run.  Now, understanding how my running had panned out earlier that week on fresh legs, well, let’s just say that running on tired legs is a completely different beast; something I’m not sure I could have ever prepared myself for.  It was as if my legs had actually turned to bricks themselves, meaning that “Brick workouts” are very aptly named if you ask me.

It was definitely hard going.

Shakespeare is quoted as having said “a coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once”.

Well, I call bullshit on that.

While I can assure you that I did not pussy out and I actually gave it my best effort for the whole 90 minutes, I think my heart still stopped at least a thousand times.

But survive I did and I even received a nice compliment on my effort not just from Bill, but from several of the other participants as well, so I was definitely encouraged.  Despite my lingering feeling of being the odd man out, they certainly were a nice group of people.

The next workout that week was the Masters swim session also run by Bill as well as another guy, Roberto.  My exploits into swimming have already been documented in a previous post (click HERE), and I wasn’t as anxious about it as I was about the other two workouts that week.  Of course, it didn’t go exactly how I anticipated it would but I’ll let you click on the above links for that full account.  What I was most concerned with was the 6:00am start time…on a SUNDAY!

Seriously, though, I thought Sunday was supposed to be a “Day of Rest”.

Madness I tell you!

Anyway, I met in the lobby of the YMCA at 5:45am that week with about two dozen other bleary-eyed and bedraggled triathlete wannabe’s.  Once the door opened, I proceeded to go through the next 60 minutes of near drowning and by the end I was completely disillusioned with my swimming.  I had originally thought I was a decent swimmer but, as I learned, I knew about as much about “proper” swimming as I did about running and cycling.  Afterwards, Bill lead us through another 45 minutes of torture in the spin studio and a 20 minute core workout after that so that by 8:30am I was about as near death as I’ve ever been in my life.

The thing is, that after it was all said and done that week I felt as if I had accomplished something significant.

And, in actuality – I had.

The other valuable benefit to becoming a member of this herd of tri-gazelles was the meet cup for coffee after Sunday’s workout.  It was here that I started to form meaningful friendships with these people as well as beginning to glean the ins and outs of the sport like nutrition, equipment, etc., so that little by little I was getting myself mentally prepared for the inevitable challenge that I had signed up for with my brother.  I even started doing more running on my own outdoors – albeit without much structure – I swam some added laps and, yes, I even joined a few more spin classes during the week.

Consequently, my confidence began to grow week after week as did my fitness.  I’m not going to say that any of it was necessarily easy or comfortable at first, but it did eventually become part of my new weekly routine as did walking and weights and, in time, I even learned to enjoy it…somewhat.

You could even say that I became hooked.

Throughout that winter, I kept up with the routine and all the workouts and eventually, I wasn’t feeling like the helpless fat kid as much as I was beginning to hold my own with some of the other more experienced gazelles.  By spring, I was more or less ready as I was ever going to be to take on this triathlon challenge.

The thing is, I still needed to find a bike and, as I learned, a wetsuit.

Fortunately, anticipating these two necessary expenditures I had saved up a little money from my paychecks for this purpose.

First up was the wetsuit.

One Saturday afternoon, I joined four other first time triathlete wannabe’s from the group (all females) on a wetsuit shopping excursion to ‘Swim n Sport’ in Burlington. Now, if you’ve never shopped for a wetsuit before, you’re in for a real treat.  Just imagine having three young and attractive shop attendants try to wedge all your bodily “man folds” into a sausage casing.  The task was absolutely Sisyphean in nature.  As one fold of fat was neatly tucked in, another would suddenly spring free so that there was more constant yanking, pulling, poking, prodding and stretching than I ever care to remember.  In fact, until now I have pretty much entirely blocked out this memory from my consciousness.  It was like trying to stuff the Michelin Man into a neoprene condom.

Yeah, not sexy!

After about 30 breathless minutes of being forcefully stuffed into a basic entry-level wetsuit, I stood looking at myself in a full length mirror while the poor girls huffed and puffed nearby.

My reaction?

47663235

Again, a feeling of ridiculousness totally overwhelmed me but, by this point, I was pretty certain that after all their effort, the shop attendants would have lynched me right there in the store had I chose to change my mind and decide against it, so I reluctantly handed over my credit card and a brand new Nineteen wetsuit was mine all mine for the  substantial cost of $399.99.

And believe me, this was no meager expense for me at the time.

What it did mean, of course, was that I had pretty much made up my mind by this point that triathlon was going to be a major part of my life for some time to come, even though I hadn’t yet – you know – actually competed in one.  I justified it to myself that it was a necessary investment in my newfound healthy lifestyle and, hey, if I couldn’t complete the actual triathlon itself, I may as well look the part, dammit!

Now all I needed now was a bike.

The problem thought, was that a new bike was well out of my price range at this point in time.

Fortunately, fate stepped in yet again.

One of my older co-workers, Jan, had been following all my triathlon exploits to that point with a sincere interest.  Her kids had all participated in triathlon years before so she already understood all the effort it took to adequately prepare for one.  Each day she would quiz me on my last workout and my overall progress and was very encouraging and supportive.  When I told her I was still looking for a bike, she told me that she had one I could just…have.

I was like:

will-smith-excuse-me-picture

She assured me that it had been sitting unused in her basement for quite a while collecting dust and if I wanted, I could just have it.  It would likely need a tune up but, other than that, it should be adequate enough to see me through my first triathlon.

I was absolutely beside myself and reluctant to accept such a generous offer but I agreed to at least check it out.

She wheeled into the office one morning and it was an old Trek 1000 aluminum-framed road bike.  It was dusty, had some dents and dings on the frame, two flat tires, a rusty chain and…it was gorgeous.  I wheeled it down to the nearby cycle shop which was conveniently located nearby and after they spent a little time on it lubing the chain, changing out the tires and adding clipped pedals, what I wheeled out again a week later was a perfectly decent and 100% usable road bike.

I had no idea how to actually ride it, but I now had myself a bike.

(to be continued…)

(Click HERE for ‘Part 1’ of the journey)

For anyone who’s never stepped foot inside a gym, it can be a pretty scary place.

First off, there’s enormous muscle men all pressing weights as heavy as minivans, and then there’s the uber-fit cardio bunny’s all bustling and sweating away on machines of all shapes and sizes (click HERE for more of an insight in the particular ‘Gym Types’ you’ll encounter at your local gym).  To the uninitiated, the gym is like this Utopian society consisting of nothing but buff, beautiful people; Shangri-La all decked out in trendy compression wear.

I was pretty sure that the only reason why I was ever admitted in the first place was to serve as a walking reminder to all these perfectly toned fitness models of what would inevitably happen to them if they stopped frequenting the place.

I was a walking “Don’t Be This Guy” hazard sign, if you will.

But, despite this anxiety, I knew going to a gym was the next logical step in my new ‘Get Healthy” regime as, thanks to my daily walks, my skin was starting to hang off my body in the absence of not having all the usual layers of fat to cling to.  Don’t get me wrong, losing weight felt awesome but I was beginning to feel like one of those little Shar Pei dogs and I needed to start developing my poorly abused and under-worked muscles.

However, when I first contemplated going to the gym – as you might expect – I didn’t know my ass from a dumbbell.  I first searched out and visited a few prospective gyms in my area but they usually came with some unreasonable yearly contract, or demanded that you submit to an initial fitness assessment upon joining and there was no way I was going to have my health scrutinized by one of these muscle heads as I was already painfully aware of my current fitness level – pathetic.

In short, none of them felt like a place where I would be able to confidently walk through the front door, much less workout in.  These places were full of the types of guys who inevitably tormented me at high school dances and in the change room with wedgies, nugies and swirlies, and there was no fucking way I was simply walking into the belly of the beast.  So I decided to settle for a basic monthly membership at my local YMCA instead.  That doesn’t mean that going for the first time was any less intimidating as there were still guys with arms the size of tree trunks grunting and groaning through whatever medieval torture routine they happened to be inflicting on themselves.

But there were other types of people there too; ordinary non-athletic looking people like me, and that was reassuring.

Oh, and the sole vending machine on the premises also had a distinct lack of cheeseburgers.

Perfect.

At first I just fudged my way around and tried everything.  I hopped on and tried all the elliptical, stair-climber and treadmill machines, pushed and pulled at some of the weighted resistance equipment and otherwise tried to blend in even though I really had no idea what I was doing.  At least I was being active and engaging my body in something resembling exercise.  My sore muscles the next day reassured me of that.  Most importantly, I was hoisting things that weren’t cheeseburgers and candy bars.  I was working up a sweat and so, little by little, the weight continued to fade away and in turn, my body started to get stronger.

I developed a healthy addiction to ‘Men’s Health’ magazine and tried all the recommended workouts and exercises aimed at burning fat, trimming my waistline, acquiring ‘ripped, xylophone-like abs’, and giving me the unlimited stamina to boff all my future girlfriends like the stud I was meant to be.

How could I resist?

I am a total sucker for effective advertising and these magazines definitely appeared to my damaged ego and sense of imminent horniness, what can I say?

Eventually my visits to the gym started becoming very emotional and often intense.  I began to go to the gym in the same way others frequented, say, church.  The gym had become my own place of worship where I could quietly atone for all my past years’ worth of sin.  I didn’t just saddle up to an exercise bike and go for a leisurely pedal anymore; I attacked it like a crazed Viking.  There were times, when in a fit of what must have been pure testosterone and soaring adrenaline levels when I thought I might fling the machine through the window, beat my chest like a gorilla and grab the nearest spandex-clad gym bunny and climb out to the roof to await the fighter jets.  It really got that intense and that was all very new territory for me.  Before, I’d be happy to just make it back from the corner store with a bag of Doritos before the season premiere of ‘X-Files’ started, and now here I was engaging in 30-minute Interval sessions on a treadmill.

I even returned to racquet sports and started to play squash regularly with a colleague from work (my boss, no less) and together we joined a friendly recreational group of players who played most mornings at 5-fucking-30am.  Usually, this would be the time I was crawling home from the bar…not heading to the gym for a round of squash.

This was a complete 180-degree turnaround lifestyle-wise.

Gradually, after frequenting the gym five to six days a week, I learned that there was a certain, delicate code of conduct that enabled everyone to play nicely with others.  The gym, after all, is a fragile ecosystem unlike no other.  All one has to do to validate this notion is to wander into the middle of their gym at its peak hour and close their eyes.  It’s like you’ve been instantly transported to the remotest, wildest, unexplored region of the planet.  Besides all the heavy clanging and clamor of heavy metal being mashed together, there are people making noises similar to hissing cats, growling bears, angry squirrels and what have you.  I’m pretty sure I even heard a guy fart through his nose once while struggling to finish his final set of weights.  It’s like you’re suddenly all alone in some weird alien petting zoo.   I eventually learned that while it’s perfectly acceptable to sweat, grunt and make unnatural faces, it’s still no reason to forget your manners.  Besides, if you cram large groups of narcissistic people into confined places with ample pieces of blunt iron lying around, you’re bound to have problems if there isn’t a proper predetermined code of conduct.  And given that even the old woman doing a zillion crunches in the corner could probably kick my ass I figured I’d better figure out – fast – the most effective way to blend in while still getting my workout in unscathed.

For this reason, I created and adhered to my own set of ‘Ordinary Man’s Guide to Gym Etiquette and Survival’ (click HERE – bearing in mind that I still smoked pot at this point so this old post was geared more towards hippies than “ordinary” guys).

Whatever, I still continue to follow these same principles today.

Anyway, the fat continued to drop off my body and I started to build some muscle and, consequentially, I was also beginning to develop something I hadn’t experienced very often:  pride.  Furthermore, and maybe most importantly, I wasn’t so immediately repulsed by my own reflection in the mirror and, believe me, there are no shortage of mirrors at the gym.  I figure this is the gym’s way of reminding you to work hard.

Yes, things were definitely looking up but I was becoming restless.  I still walked periodically, but these workouts had been mostly replaced by things I could do indoors at the gym.

And it was getting boring.

It had been nearly two years since my turnaround from my old habits and I was beginning to crave something new – a different challenge perhaps – something in which to show off my new athletic prowess, basic as it was.  I wanted something different to sink my teeth into.  I felt like I had something to prove to myself, I just wasn’t sure what it was yet.  It was around this time that fate finally stepped in and dropped the gauntlet down squarely before me by offering me the one thing that would eventually consume me for the seven years up to the present.

And it all happened innocently enough:

“Why don’t we do a triathlon”?

I looked at my brother like he had just suggested that we castrate each other in some ritual ceremony by the light of a full moon.  My physical reaction was probably akin to had he just tried to tie my nipples into balloon knots.

“Get the fuck out of here!”, I responded.

You see, my most vivid (and only) recollection of triathlon came at a very early age when I was just 10 years old.  Most likely, I was lazing around on the couch at home and hefting an Oh, Henry!  to my mouth to pass the time – doing as little as possible – waiting for the dinner bell to ring.  It was 1982 and TSN, which was new at the time, was broadcasting the live Ironman competition from Kona, Hawaii and Julie Moss was on the final leg of her marathon and wearing that geeky baseball cap.

I liked watching sports.

I just wasn’t very good at playing them.

What she was doing was completely lost on me as I had no concept then of the distances involved, or what the scope and magnitude of what she was attempting to accomplish was.  I don’t even think I knew where Hawaii was.  Sure, she was running…but she was also walking.  How hard could that be?  I probably would have likely changed the channel had there been something more interesting on.

But then the broadcast took a decided different tone when shit – actual shit – started to stream down Julie’s leg as she began to weeble-wobble, eventually toppling over completely…over and over again.  She would then get up…and collapse right back down again down (click HERE to see for yourself).

The fuck?

What I didn’t know then is that her body was basically beginning to shut down (referred to as “hitting the wall”) and she was ultimately losing control of her ability to function normally as a result of the extreme hardship that she had placed on it over the course of 226.2 kilometers of racing.

My thought?

“Eww”, immediately followed by: “is she retarded or something?”

Hey, I was 10 years old and it was 1982 so that was a perfectly acceptable thing to think.

Anyway, Julie would eventually lose the race to Kathleen McCartney only mere meters from the finish line but I didn’t care, I just knew that triathlon was definitely not  for me.  So when my brother suggested this very notion some 25 years later I thought:

“No fucking way am I ever going to risk shitting myself in public!”

Truth!

That’s fucking crazy.

Of course, my brother wasn’t suggesting we tackle an Ironman, he was suggesting we do something less than total batshit crazy, like a shorter (much shorter) “Try-a-Tri”…for, you know, beginners.  Once this was explained to me I began to give it some serious consideration.

I still had my doubts considering that I hadn’t swum since grade school, and even then it was just to play tag at the local community pool.  I didn’t own a bike.

And running?

19tmvk

But I won’t deny it, I was curious.

I mean, how else was I ever going to put this newly acquired fitness to the test?  The distances seemed reasonable:  a 400m swim, a 10k bike ride, and a 2.5k run.  My walks around the neighborhood up to that point were easily longer than that so, hey, maybe this was  entirely possible.

Besides, I was beginning to feel the stirrings of sibling rivalry rear its ugly head.  My brother has always been fitter than me…always has.  When I was eating candy bars he was out playing.  Later in life while I was drinking beer, smoking pot and staying out late, he was in the gym or doing something active.  In university he studied physical fitness to become a phys-ed teacher for Christ sake.  Clearly, we were very different apples that just happened to fall off the same tree.

But here’s where fate really  steps in:

The very next day a poster appeared on the YMCA message board announcing that there was going to be a new triathlon club starting up…for beginners.  There was going to be organized swimming and running groups as well as a triathlon specific “Brick Class”.  I didn’t know what a “Brick class” was and it scared me to the bone.  It sure didn’t sound fun.  However, it was all going to be provided at my local YMCA for no extra cost aside from my normal monthly membership, so how could I refuse?

It was as if Fate itself had just stepped out from the shadows and bitch-slapped me.

Reluctantly, I picked up the phone and called my brother that same day.

“Okay, let’s do it.”

(to be con’d…)

Now that the race season is practically over, I’m feeling somewhat at a loss.

For the past seven years I have competed in several triathlons, running races and long distance bike challenges.  This year with the cancellation of my planned Iron-distance event (click HERE), I didn’t compete at all…like, at all.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I competed one 30k running race…and I totally sucked out (click HERE).

Needless to say, it hasn’t exactly been my finest year fitness-wise.

I mean, I’ve had a great summer – don’t get me wrong!  I helped run 10 kids triathlon all over Ontario and British Columbia with the SunRype Tri-KiDS series and I completed another 10k Swim for Strong Kids…even though that wasn’t my finest hour either.  What I have done well enough though is drink lots of beer and consume stupid amounts of BBQ…like a champ!

Now as I’m beginning to get squared away mentally for the pending 2017 challenges which – *knock on wood* – will mark my triumphant return to both triathlon and a healthy lifestyle, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how I actually ended up going down this road in the first place.

How did I get here?

What can I learn from this?

I guess I’m preparing to go all Rocky IV here by going back to basics, beginning with my diet.

This post then is the culmination of about three weeks worth of reflecting on how I did end up at this juncture in my life as well as what I’ve learned, as a means of using that to motivate me to do the right things again for the next 11 months leading up to July 2nd, 2017…my (hopeful) return to Ironman.


 

It should first be known that I don’t have anything particularly against cheeseburgers.  I still have them from time to time and I still list ‘finding the perfect cheeseburger’ on the Interests portion of my professional resume.

It’s just that I don’t eat them for breakfast anymore.

You see, I am a fat person much in the same way that ‘once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic’ and cheeseburgers were once an acceptable meal anytime of the day.  Salad was what you put on the cheeseburger, but things have changed drastically since those days.  There was no such thing as ‘Healthy Options’ on restaurant menus, nor did we have ‘Blue Menu’s’ at the local superstore.

It’s doubtful that I would’ve cared less even if there had been.

I’ve been sensitive about my weight ever since high school.  In grade school I was skinny – ‘athletic’ almost.  Back then, I even managed to win the  “Male Athlete of the Year” award in Grade Six upon graduating Maplecrest Public School; not necessarily because of any athletic prowess per se, but because I simply participated in absolutely everything – albeit poorly.  Volleyball, basketball, cross-country, soccer, etc. – I sucked at it all equally.  Of course, it was more of a ‘Sportsmanship’ award than anything else as I can’t ever remember winning anything particularly important or even placing in anything above dead last in any sporting meet or event, but Lord knows I tried hard.

Outside of school I enjoyed recreational swimming, baseball and badminton, all of which I fared pretty well, especially badminton, but never to any significant degree.  But then I got my first job as a pre-teenager, a paper route and, with it, a means of instant income and a rather compulsive addiction to chocolate bars so that by the time high school came around I had the inflated physique (and likely the blood sugar level) of the Michelin Man.  From that point forward it was ‘So long sports!  Hello Snickers bars!’  I still played badminton with a certain amount of skill, but my only other ‘athletic’ endeavor in high school was participating on the curling team, mostly because there was a lot of sitting in between ends.  So while everyone else was out making touchdowns, hitting dingers and sinking buckets…I was sweeping rocks and sitting on benches.  Not exactly the stuff that true jocks are made of.

Eating junk food was where I really shined.

Likewise, I wish I could tell you that I have fond memories of spending lots of quality time with my mother and grandmother in the kitchen learning healthy family recipes but, in actuality, I was usually too preoccupied in the living room watching Loony Tunes.

Essentially, this was me every time dinner was called:

giphy1

I could do the basics I suppose; toast bread, pour cereal, spread peanut butter over crackers and, what have you – hardly anything that one might qualify as ‘fine cuisine’.  When I was old enough to use the stove I could boil water for hot dogs or Kraft Dinner; skills that would serve me well into my adult life.  We ate well enough as a family, despite not always having the ample budget to do so.  In fact, how my mother continuously fed our family of five as well as she did must have been akin to Jesus feeding the multitudes on five loaves of bread and two fish – it’s just that I didn’t play much of a part in the whole process as I did at turning my nose up at what was placed in front of me…unless it was dessert, of course.  It was the late 1970’s and my mom was in charge of the kitchen as were most mom’s of that particular generation, and Rule #1 was our getting lost to leave her to work which suited me fine given that, mostly, I was pretty lazy.

These poor eating habits continued on when I left home to attend university where, instead of following the recommended meal plans provided by the residence cafeterias (if residence meal plans could ever be considered as ‘healthy’ that is), I gravitated towards Taco Bell…every day.  I could consume my body weight in soft bean burritos.  I probably did more often that I’d like to admit.  Despite playing badminton recreationally once or twice a week (thank God for my wicked drop shop which spared me having to run on many an occasion), the quantities of crappy food and beer far outweighed whatever calories I was burning off on the courts.

More often than not, I could be found at any one of the university bars on campus indulging in a liquid lunch and, maybe, a plate of fries instead of engaging in anything healthy or active.  By the time I left university I was well on my way to a severe weight problem, not to mention a liver that probably looked like a discarded sponge.

I also started to smoke pot…a lot.

I like to refer to these years as “The Fattening”.

The next few years were similarly unkind on my body.  After I graduated university I moved away to London, U.K. to work in British-style pubs where my diet mainly existed solely on peanut butter and kebobs.  Lord knows, the English aren’t well known for their healthy cuisine.  At least they weren’t back then as this was still the pre-Jamie Oliver era.  My weekly paycheck (or what was left over after rent anyway) was primarily reserved for beer and cigarettes.  So fruit and vegetables were seldom ever factored in unless you consider ‘mushy peas’ or ‘chips’ a vegetable.  My daily meals were often compromised of whatever leftovers I could scrounge up in the kitchen after service.  This is no one’s fault but my own, and my managers were very nice and accommodating in allowing me to get away with this as it wasn’t really their obligation to feed me, but my priorities were all eschewed after years of poor lifestyle decisions.

By the time I returned home eight years later I had ballooned out to well over 275 lbs.

Even when I returned home, this poor eating style continued and was complimented by many, many other unhealthy choices as I continued working in the local bars and restaurants.  ‘Dinner’ had become whatever I managed to throw down my throat on my break and, maybe, something else later in the wee hours of the morning on the way home again (think: MacDonald’s, Burger King, or whatever else happened to still be open for Take-Out).  By now, this had all become learned behavior over the years; ‘cooking’ was about as alien to me as advanced nuclear physics.  Seriously, I’d have about as much luck in making a simple casserole as I would have of stumbling across the formula for cold water fusion; I was that hopeless at preparing my own meals.  If it hadn’t been either pre-prepared or pre-packaged I had absolutely no freakin’ idea what to do with it as, by that time, I had developed a full on love affair with high calorie, fatty food.  Fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet were almost unheard of and had taken on a near mythical status in my life, like unicorns, leprechauns and the Loch Ness Monster.

Later, I managed to quit the service industry altogether and bumped around from job to job until I ended up working in a call center, mostly because it was air-conditioned and I could sit for eight hours a day.  Besides, I had excellent communication skills so solving customer disputes and handling billing problems over the phone didn’t pose much thought or difficulty.  It was an ‘easy paycheck’ involving next to zero physical activity or exercise.

Part and parcel with this new employment, however, was my becoming used to living out of the cafeteria vending machines, of which, pre-packaged microwave cheeseburgers were my favorite; breakfast, lunch or dinner.

I loved those cellophane-wrapped heart attacks-to-go.

Fortunately by this point, I had managed to quit smoking but I had just turned 30 years old, weighed approximately 320 lbs. and would break out into a sweat simply by walking to the corner store for a loaf of bread or, as in the case on this particularly fateful day, from the car to the front door at work.  After years of living poorly and making unhealthy lifestyle decisions, I had turned myself into a gelatinous blob of fat with no muscle whatsoever.  My personal self-esteem was practically non-existent and I still smoked copious amounts of marijuana every day in order to maintain my sanity in the face of it all.

Dating?

Impossible.

I was entering into middle age and I felt awful most of the time and, ultimately, I grew very bitter and angry at myself, not to mention the rest of the world.  I had, quite literally, become the ‘Fat and the Furious’.

Eventually, I had a bit of an epiphany.

Well, not so much an epiphany as it was a “moment”.

I very real and ugly moment.

It came while looking at my reflection in the front window at my place of employment.  I was sweating profusely and out of breathe; I was enormous, unkempt, and very unhealthy looking and I had only walked a short distance from the car.  Instead of going in, I just stood there in shock taking in the miserable looking behemoth staring back at me.  I felt terrible.  I was overcome with a profound sense of shame and disappointment.  How had I let things get to this point?  When did I become so fat and out of shape?  I decided then and there to pack it in for the day and went home.  Judging by my reflection, I was justified in taking a sick day as I was most certainly not well; physically or mentally.  It was while sitting on the couch at home that afternoon, smoking pot and eating a candy bar while feeling sorry for myself, that the ultimate decision was made.

Things needed to change.

Fast.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had taken the first significant step to changing the path of self-destruction.

I had no idea how I was going to manage this change but, finally, the initiative had hit me that I was going to do something…anything.  So where most people sign up for Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, or whatever fad diet program that happens to be occupying the majority of prime time air slots on the boob tube, or run out to purchase the latest, convenient, fold away, body sculpting piece of shit being hawked by the latest celebrity has-been…I started walking and, heaven’s forbid, eating more salad.

I still wasn’t a whiz in the kitchen, but I bought some healthy eating cook books from the local secondhand bookstore and started to bookmark basic recipes that even a chimpanzee could muster up.  It was a start.

It was something.

At first I simply walked around the neighborhood for an hour or so and there are some very unflattering photographs of me from around this period.  It was amazing to me how little I really knew about the area I had lived in for the majority of my life.  Now I was discovering what lay at the end of certain side-streets, or laneways that I had never bothered to turn down before, and what pretty landscapes lay in hiding along remote walking trails and local parks.  Little by little, these neighborhood walks grew increasingly longer in both duration and distance and I completed them faithfully every night after getting home from work.  I enjoyed these ambles, in the beginning anyway, and they were every bit as challenging then as some of the crazy workouts I attempt nowadays, yet I still had no invocation of ever completing a triathlon.

That notion hadn’t even begun to formulate itself in my mind yet.

I started to plan out my meals with a little more consideration as to what I was actually putting into my body.  I began to make the connection that whatever I ate that day was directly related to the quality of the workout – however basic  – that I would take on later that day.

I also learned another, well, not so pleasant side effect of suddenly switching to a healthy lifestyle after nearly two decades of self-indulgence; real food makes you poop…a lot.

Who knew?

And I’m not talking about the usual evacuations I was accustomed to when eating all that high calorie, greasy food either, I’m talking about huge spires of earthly-colored crap that would make most circus elephants envious.  Every time I needed to go to the bathroom I practically had to clear my afternoon schedule.

Let it never be said that getting healthy is a beautiful thing.

I remember one particular evening when the toilet in my meager apartment had clogged up after a rather glorious passing.  I attacked the drain with a plunger like I was grappling with the control stick of a plummeting B-52 bomber, but to no avail.   After three or four unsuccessful attempts to unblock the offending obstruction, not to mention cleaning up the three or four inevitable overflows, I decided to call in for back-up to my landlord who also conveniently lived on the main floor downstairs.  Unfortunately, he was still at work for the evening so I left a message and settled down on the couch for a nap.

Hey, pooping is hard business don’t’ cha know?

Later that evening when he returned home he immediately came upstairs for a looksee and after a few more unsuccessful “plunge and mop ups”, he too threw in the towel – quit literally actually – and offered to call a plumber in the morning.  It was late and he was tired, so dealing with plugged toilets I’m sure wasn’t exactly what he wanted to be doing.

Who could blame him?

Defeated, he left to go downstairs and shortly thereafter I heard a scream followed by a very vocal “Oh, shit!”  As it later turned out, more accurate words could not have been chosen.

I hurriedly raced downstairs to see what all the commotion was and upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, I saw him standing in the doorway to his apartment – frozen – with a look of pure horror on his face.  It still wasn’t immediately clear what had happened at that point, so I carefully maneuvered around him in the narrow passageway to sneak a peek inside.  The grizzly spectacle I was greeted with would have been on par with any murder crime scene.

It was gruesome indeed!

Bucketful’s of dirty toilet water had poured out from the ceiling just underneath where my bathroom would have been; all over his leather furniture, his home entertainment center, his, well, everything really.  Everything in the apartment was completely saturated with dank, smelly sewage.

It seems that the pipes in my bathroom had completely burst under the floor and released with it an absolute torrential tsunami of shit.  What was revealed later when all was said and done was that, being an old house, the bathroom pipes had literally exploded under the force of my massive meaty turds over the past few monthly.

Oops.

But it’s the truth; I was squeezing out these new Tyrannosaurus-sized turds on a very regular basis, the likes of which I’d never experienced before.  Think about it:  making healthier choices including eating foods with high fiber and more cruciferous vegetables was ultimately wreaking havoc on the poor outdated plumbing in the apartment.  One hundred year old drainage pipes were no match for my reenergized bowel apparently.

Thankfully, my landlord had the proper home insurance to cover such disasters and all would be rectified thanks to nearly three months’ worth of detailed renovations during which time he had to sleep on his sailboat.

All thanks to my new healthy lifestyle.

After nearly a year of sticking with the plan, through good times and smelly, I wasn’t quite so repulsed with the reflection I saw in passing windows during my daily walks but, there was still a long way to go in my mind.  I even started dating – albeit never for very long.  This was a huge breakthrough in and of itself just to know that someone could actually find me attractive.  Most exciting of all was that I could once again see my penis in the shower without the aid of a box periscope.

What can I say?

I’m all about small victories.

The time was also approaching I decided, to ratchet up the plan to the next level and included my first foray into what I considered ‘No Man’s Land’; the local gym.

Soon there would be no looking back.

(to be con’d…)