Posts Tagged ‘Charity’

It has become one of my habits now to set a few goals through the off-season to work towards and which, ultimately, serve as benchmarks leading up to the accomplishment of the master plan being Ironman.  One of these regular goals is the completion of the Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids at my local YMCA.

This has been my fifth year participating in and completing this charity swim and it has become the hallmark of my off-season training program; not to mention my motivation for getting my ass out of a warm bed at 5:00am on cold winter mornings.

Here are the particulars of my 2017 swim plan to date:

  • 182,025m covered in total (2,500m more than last year)
  • That’s an average of 14,205m per week for an average of 4 hours and 33 minutes (per week)
  • Which equates to 61 hours and 34 minutes spent in the pool
  • Over 47 different workouts

That’s not too shabby if I do say so myself.

17952595_10158536214270113_3324792525232267637_nI was particularly motivated this year as I was sharing the task with a friend and past training partner Steve, whom I met back in the early days of my triathlon quest.  I don’t necessarily remember how this partnership came about but I know there was definitely a beer in hand at a Christmas party where he actually committed to do the swim with me.  How many were consumed by that point is anyone’s guess but, true to his word, Steve took up the gauntlet and launched into his own preparation for this year’s event (click HERE for a little deeper insight into Steve’s rather “unique” training plan).

Besides getting to share this experience with someone it also meant that I wouldn’t have to deal with the hardest part of long distance swimming as far as I’m concerned:

B-O-R-E-D-O-M.

Seriously, when you’re spending the better part of three hours staring at the little hairs floating on the bottom of the pool, your brain tends to liquefy and slowly drain out your ears.

Let’s just say that it becomes very tedious indeed simply watching the black line endlessly pass underneath you and there’s a reason why I use this event to build up my overall “mental toughness”.

Believe me.

Usually, the last hour or so is just me – alone – simply trying not to go crazy.  So having someone to keep me company and share in the tediousness and general pacing was a huge benefit and I couldn’t really have been luckier in who offered to join me.

In past years, my 10k swims have clocked overall times of 3:22:50 (2016), 3:11:05 (2015) and 3:11:57 (2014), and 3:16:31 (2013) respectively.

Clearly, last year was a real struggle.

This year: 3:00:40.

That’s a difference of 11 minutes and 25 seconds over my best time.

Boo-yah!

Different from past years where I went it alone, Steve and I stopped every 500m  for a sip of water and a quick glance at one another before pushing off the wall again.  All in all, each break was only 4-5 seconds each.  Over the course of three hours, we only spend 4 minutes and 59 seconds resting and refueling.  Again, this represents a huge improvement over the 10 minutes or so between longer intervals in previous years so this plan seemed to work out much better.

Likewise, since we were splitting the pacing duties out front every 1,000m we managed a better average pace of 1:49min/100m and, really, it was only in the last 2,000-3,000m or so that our pace began to fade.

Some other interesting statistics for those of you who care:

  • I covered the distance in exactly 4,302 strokes
  • For an average of 23 strokes/minute
  • Burning exactly 2,400 calories in doing so

So what now?

Well, from here I begin pulling back on the distance and begin focusing more on speed and tempo work at the 4,000m  distance given my next swim goal is directly aimed at being among the first few out of the water at Hudson Valley (click HERE).  I will also be doing the Lake Okanagan Swim with HRH on July 15th (2,000m) – but that’s more of a fun bonding thing than it is any significant challenge.

Steve, however, is going to continue with the distance with – hopefully – designs on competing in a few open water events around Ontario meaning, of course, that we can both continue to motivate and train together in the open water come next month.

Well, that and getting rid of the pull buoy.

(Sorry Steve, couldn’t resist)

Anyway, seeing as how the Frank & Friends swim has now been reassigned to November we might even be doing this same swim again sooner than anticipated so there’s always that motivation to keep going as well.

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.

 

The Enormous Elephant Run

Posted: October 19, 2015 in Run
Tags: ,

I’ve mentioned before that sometimes you run for distance while other times you run for speed, hills, and, so I’ve heard anyway, you even run for fun – although this “fun” thing still tends to elude me.  Shit, sometimes you even run for survival (click HERE).  But, occasionally, there are those others rare times that you run for the sole purpose of making a total and complete ass of yourself like I did this morning when I agreed to run 10 kilometers in an elephant suit.

Yes, you read that correctly:

…in an elephant suit.

Okay, actually, we were running in support of a pretty good cause, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which works to protect wild elephants and rescue orphaned baby elephants, giving them a second chance at a life in the wild.  Did you know that an elephant is illegally poached every 15 minutes or something ridiculous like that?  Awful, right?

But, c’mon, seriously!  How cute is this?

12027104_1677324302484609_6111281572818781472_oYeah.

Just try and say ‘No’  to that widdle winkily bundle-wundle of infinite cuteness.

Not this tough guy!

Anyway, the long and short of it is that when the Coach, for whom this is an important cause, messaged me last month to ask me if I’d be interested in running with her while wearing an elephant suit I was all in…hands down.

No questions asked.

I mean, seriously, if I’m going to drop 60-70 bucks on a race anyway, it might as well go towards supporting a good cause and then be able to do it on my own terms.  Making a total spectacle of myself was just the icing on the cake.  Forget the dry-wicking shirt that I’m likely never going to wear anyway, it may as well be a full elephant costume which might just come in handy later on down the road.

You never know do you?  Someday it might just be convenient and handy to just happen to have an elephant costume hanging in your closet.

Just sayin’…

The whole premise of the “Enormous Elephant Virtual Run” is that once entered, you will receive your elephant costume in the mail and then be asked to run either 5k or 10k in it sometime between October 1st and October 31st. What the fuck. I was looking for a new winter running outfit anyway so I registered right away. And I will admit, when it did arrive I was pretty damn excited.

See?

What has two thumbs, one truck and is damn excited to make an ass of himself?

What has two thumbs, two tusks, one trunk and is pretty damn excited to make an ass of himself?

Shit, I might never take this thing off.

Upon agreeing and registering, the Coach created our own ‘Enormous Elephant Run – Niagara Area ‘ Facebook page so it was definitely carved in stone with this past Saturday being our official “Go” date.  We met at Starbucks on 4th Avenue at 9:00am in our costumes (and for the record, it is pretty easy to spot friends in an already busy parking lot when they also happen to be wearing elephant costumes) and ready to stampede our way down Martindale Rd., or so for 5k and then back again (click HERE).

Our Niagara Herd

Our Niagara Herd

The reception we received was pretty damn funny with people either honking their horns, waving or just flashing us that surprised “what the fuck is that?”  look that people get when they haven’t had their first coffee of the morning yet and they stumble upon three people running along the road in elephant costumes.  I’m surprised that someone didn’t actually drive off the road honestly.  Primarily, I think people were pretty amused for the most part.

And we're off....

And we’re off….

And so we ran for an hour or so, waved at passing motorists, acknowledged catcalls and threw out the hig-5’s to other morning runners along the way; not to mention the odd “Pfft.  Nice jacket”  as they passed by because, well, when a guy who is wearing an elephant costume chooses to mock your choice of running attire, well, that’s some funny shit right?  So fun was definitely had by all.  And, shit, if a baby orphan elephant manages to have an easier time in this life as a result, well, that’s pretty awesome as well.

Elephant Selfie

Elephant Selfie

So if anyone is still interested to acknowledge my complete buffoonery by making a small donation to my online fundraising page in support of this cause, they can please click HERE  to do so.

I thank you in advance.

The Big Move 2015

Posted: September 14, 2015 in Bike, Lifestyle
Tags: , , ,

One of my staple events every year is The Big Move Ride for Cancer in support of the Walker Family Cancer Center at the St. Catharines hospital.  I’ve been the last person to cross the starting line and last to cross the finishing line for the past seven years; ensuring that everyone…EVERYONE…gets to the end of the 100k route successfully and safely.  However, given my recent back issues I’ve been coping with this week plus the fact that it was cold and rainy, I was rather apprehensive about the ride this year.

Usually, when I spring out of bed the morning of the Big Move I’m all like:

This year, it was more like this:

Rain

Truth be told, I probably shouldn’t even have been riding but this ride is very meaningful to me and I believe that there are people genuinely counting on me for support so, come Hell or high water (we actually got a bit of both), I was determined to show up and make it around; albeit painfully.

This year was also particularly significant as this was the first year we’ve all volunteered at the Big Move as a family unit.  I would continue on as a sweep rider while Kelly and HRH  would work in one of the sweep vans helping to support the riders, aid stations, marshals along the route as well as keep track of all the signage, etc.

Here’s our family selfie:

11169407_10153522040560977_5100440612297073708_o

We arrived early at 7:00am to get all set up which, for the most part, meant sitting inside the car with the seat warmers on keeping dry and drinking coffee.  Many of the event volunteers were already out in force setting up the starting/finishing line, registration tables, vendor tents, barricades, etc.  Basically, I just sat in the car and stressed about my sore back and the weather. Eventually, it was time to get suited up for the ride itself and start preparing for a long haul into the wind and rain set to begin at 8:30am.

Here is my inspiration this year:

11222816_10153522058745977_3319805259375351723_n

The whole process went kind of like this:

Pee

After a brief delay though, our ride was out and underway heading out from Club Roma and directly up the escarpment at Rockway.

The climb up to Rockway Glen comes pretty early in the ride representing my first opportunity to begin providing real encouragement and support for some of the less experienced riders; never mind it’s already wet and slick out. I’ve done the climb up Rockway billions of times but for the uninitiated, it’s definitely a formidable obstacle.

Like this:

What they see

I trudged up the steep incline with Bonnie, a lady riding in memory of her husband and sister (judging by the ‘In Memory of…’ sign on her own back).  With some coaxing and encouragement and constant reminders to remember to breathe, she made it to the top to the first rest station.  She left pretty quickly afterwards though and I never saw her again (which, in the sweep business, isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

Around this time, my sweep partner declared that she was going to ride up ahead a bit and that she’d see me later.  I never did. So for the next 30-40 kilometers through Silverdale and down Silver Creek Rd., I rode with Lisa, a local tax accountant, who was braving the elements with a head cold.

There is a bit of a negative stigmatism about being at “the end” and Lisa was bit conscientious about it at first but we filled the next 90 minutes or so with fun, motivational conversation and whatnot and before I knew it she had become my “adopted sweeper” and was happily informing the marshals we passed that we were the tail end of the ride (one of the roles of sweeping).  What this really means is that I probably blabbed on endlessly about all the minute banal trivialities of my day-to-day life while she smiled and sniffed politely and then speaking to the marshals as a way of interrupting the full-blown conversational diarrhea from the crazy person riding beside her.

Like this:

blah

A short while later, I happened across what would, inevitably become the first of my many mechanical issues (another inevitable duty of the sweep rider) of the day.

“Duckie” and her friend had been abandoned by the roadside and were quite distraught that she may not be able to finish the ride due to a flat back tire. Changing tires has never been my specialty, but after 10 minutes or so of gentle reassurance and a lot of pulling, prodding and swearing as the result of a stubborn rear wheel, we had her back on her way and en route. I continued along with Duckie & co. for a while longer until she reunited with her group at the next aid station at the Old Pelham Town Hall.

Now, I have to say, one of the best parts of sweep riding is the hero’s welcome we typically receive at each of the aid stations from the volunteers. They really are amazing in the positive encouragement they provide the riders, especially given the harsh conditions they were enduring on this day. The real awesome thing about this particular rest stop was the fresh, home baked muffins available.

Like this:

muffin

Not long afterwards, I happened across my 2nd, 3rd and 4th flats of the day.  Each rider was in varying states of panic and I’m happy to report that each rider was very quickly gotten back on track with a fresh tire and all made it back to the finish safe and sound.  Yay me!  I was definitely, getting lots of practice changing tires.  At one point, I was introduced to this incredible gizmo (click HERE), the ‘Crank Brothers Extendable Speed Lever‘ and I was all like:

witchcraft

I need to get me one of these.

The problem now though, is that after tending to so many other riders mechanical issues I was well and truly behind the other 100k riders.  In the sweep world this is akin to being separated from your flock.  Not good.  So after that last flat, I peeled out on my own with the intent of making up some time, turned onto Wellandport Rd. and, BAM!, directly into a strong headwind.  Crap!  Fortunately, my sweep van pulled in ahead of me and I was able to draft behind to the next aid station in time to catch the other riders.  It was a real ‘Tour de France’ moment and over the next 7 or 8 kilometers it went something like this:

34 km/h…

Weeeeeee!

This is awesome.

36 km/h …

Okay, this sucks.

Stupid headwind!

38 km/h …

My back was starting to scream.

40 km/h …

Beginning to bury myself now…

42 km/h…

I was almost in tears.

44 km/h…

Fully in tears.

I think for some strange reason, I don’t know why, I felt the urge to suffer for a little bit.

Call it old habit I suppose.

Thankfully, I made it to the ‘First In Counters’ rest station moments before everyone else was set to head back out.  I had definitely burned a few matches in getting back to the group but, once again, fate intervened in the way of some incredible home-baked cookies which were more than enough to keep me fueled and going to the end.

The last 30km was pretty uneventful and lonely to be honest.  By now, my back was in full on complain mode and I was completely sore and uncomfortable as all my pre-ride pain meds were wearing off.  Plus, we were now riding directly back into the shitty weather again that seemed to continue hovering directly over St. Catharines.  I admit here that I had some dark moments along River Rd. as I trailed silently behind the last two riders in the group.  I thought about my mom and dad and just otherwise tried my best to stoically deal with it all in stride.  I summoned a smile and a sincere ‘thank you’ at each turning point to the marshals as my passing would inevitably mean they could now head back to Club Roma for their hot pasta lunch which, hopefully, would also be waiting for me.

My small group of stragglers eventually met up with Duckie and her gang at the last rest stop and together we all plowed onward to the end finishing in just over 5 hours of very challenging riding (6 hours in total) in the midst of a total deluge of cold, drizzly rain…just as we had started it (click HERE). It was all smiles at the end for the accomplished riders as I anonymously crossed the finishing line behind them…in last…and sought out my own cuddles and congratulations along the sidelines from Kelly and HRH  who were there waiting faithfully for me. My back was well and truly spent by this point.

Here’s the big finish photo:

12004923_10153522040515977_7245607456227313464_n

Thankfully, a pasta lunch had been set aside for me (complete with a much-needed alcoholic beverage) and not long afterwards we pulled out in anticipation of a hot shower and coffee.  Likewise, Daisy had more than earned herself a good cleaning and toweling down as well.

Just another day/year in the life of the ‘Tail End Charlie’ I suppose, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

This past Saturday, I accomplished my first goal of the season by successfully completing the ‘Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids’ for my third straight year. This event, while supporting a very noble local cause near and dear to my own heart, has become the annual benchmark of my swim training in the off season.  In short, while most of my peers are either primarily focused on their running or indoor trainers, I tend to place all my off-season eggs squarely in the swim basket by spending a stupid amount of time in the pool with this 10k swim being my ultimate ‘coup d’etat’.

Arriving on site

Arriving on site

The goal of this event is not a preconceived time or pace, per se, but simply to complete the distance and support a great cause. The personal benefit of such is twofold:

  1. A commit to ensure that my ass gets in the pool and thereby, establish a strong foundation for my triathlon training.
  2. Build mental toughness.

Now in regards to the second point, it’s true that you can build mental toughness on the bike or while running, there’s nothing quite like the tediousness and ultimate “aloneness” to build one’s mental fortitude. The truth of the matter is that despite this being my third year doing this event, it still scares the bejesus out of me; 10 kilometers (400 laps) is a long ass time to spend swimming laps.

My attempt at looking cool.

My attempt at looking cool for the press (pre-swim)

It’s already been documented that last year wasn’t exactly a primo year for me and in some regard I’m still dealing with those demons – fear of recouping after an injury; fear of losing my fitness; fear of failure.  In training for this event it was also a way of tackling those demons head on so but, while it’s ultimately only a charity event, this also represents my first ‘mano e’ mano’  showdown with these fears and personal insecurities.

Regardless of what it was, I was certainly better trained this year than I have been in past years.  For the past two months, I have been swimming anywhere between 14 and 18 kilometers a week for a whopping grand total of nearly 180k in 2015 alone – that’s 180,000m for God sakes!  Now, I know by marathon standards this I a mere drop in the bucket but for a guy who could barely swim five years ago (click HERE and HERE), is pretty damn good I think.  I’ve used paddles, learned how to use a snorkel to perfect my stroke as much as possible, and done so many drills than that I nearly cried pure chlorine.  I’ve gotten out of bed before the crack of dawn 3 times a week for months on end, suffered dry and pruny skin and now my hair now has the texture of straw.   So let it be known, I’ve put in my time.  I feel I’ve paid my dues.

Pre-swim

Pre-swim

But how does all this translate performance-wise?

A whole 27 whole seconds. That’s it.

Okay, well, maybe not exactly.

Last years’ 10k swim time was time 3 hours, 16 minutes and 51 seconds.  On top of that, there were at least 10 minutes of feeding stops, pee breaks, and a quick meet n’ greet with Frank (the man) himself.  This year, my cumulative  time over all was 3 hours, 16 minutes and 24 seconds.  Of that time, 3 hours, 11 minutes and 5 seconds were spent swimming; meaning I only stopped twice…and even then, only briefly.  The real accomplishment is that I felt infinitely more relaxed and less spent than I have been in the last two years.  In fact, it wasn’t quite so bad…like, at all.

Dare I say it: it was pretty easy?  Physically that is.

Mentally, there were times when it was a real grind.

Me and my pacers gettin' business done.

Me and my pacers gettin’ business done.

It all started off promptly at 1:00pm with me and exactly three other swimmers, HRH included.  Nowhere near the number of participants that have turned out in previous years, and the feeling like it was going to be a long day were already sinking into my brain.  If I’ve learned anything about long distance swimming its’ that it’s every bit as much a mental challenge as it is physical, more so actually. After all, for the entire time doing laps you’re looking at a long black line on the pool with little to no other stimulus whatsoever.  They don’t call it “Black Line Fever” for nothing.

I took my first short break at the 2500m mark (100 laps) when I felt Kelly tap my feet at the wall to remind me to take in some water.  By now, other swimmers had begun arriving so at least I had some company in the other lanes.  After a minute or so I pushed on with the intent of getting through another 100 laps or so.

I’m not sure how much longer after that, but I remember thinking ‘okay, this is getting boring’ and I started to mentally prepare myself for what I knew was only going to get worse, but as I began to mentally talk myself through those first few feelings of ‘aloneness’ , another swimmer appeared in my lane…and then another.

Still at it.

Still at it.

Two other swimmers and triathlon peers of mine, Jim Sunners and Michael Poulsen arrived to lend a hand in pacing me and, basically, just to keep me company.  Both Jim and Mike are extremely successful swimmers and triathletes in their own forthright and both have qualified for Kona this year (Jim has actually qualified and competed in Kona seven times and Mike has done so for the first time this year), so to have them think enough of my challenge to show up to support me as well the cause was – well, I’ll say it – very overwhelming and it certainly very appreciated.

Together the three of us formed a pace line and pushed on.

When I next felt the tap on my feet from Kelly to remind me to stop and drink, I quickly told her I was fine and carried on.  On a few occasions, I called for a piece of banana or a sip of water but I did so by flipping over on my back and continued stroking without stopping (a skill I’ve practices this season) as to not break our formation.  We kept this up straight through the half way point of the swim and by the time Jim pulled from the formation and called it a day at one end of the pool (he had to get to work) we were already at the 7500m mark (300 laps) – my longest consecutive swim to date.

At the finish.

At the finish.

Our pace may have not been anything to brag about and, truthfully, I know we could all have managed a much quicker pace fairly easily, it was still fun and I felt honored and privileged to be paced by guys to whom I look up to and I was just happy to sit on their feet and enjoy the moment…all 75 or so of them.

Mike and I pressed on for another 1000m or so before he too had to get to work, so with only 1500m to go and a couple honey dates in my belly, I pressed on once again…alone.  These next 60 laps were easily the most difficult of them all as by this time, I was pretty much the only one left in the pool.  I picked up the pace just a bit, so keep things interesting (and prove to myself I could do it) and to the encouragement of the amazing staff at the Port Colborne YMCA, I even sprinted the last 50m  to the end completing my third successful Frank & Friends swim.

The after effects.

The after effects.

Here are the final results (click HERE):

  • Total calories: 2,832
  • Total strokes: 4,776
  • strokes per minute: 24
  • strokes per length: 12
  • pace: 155 min/100m
  • Best pace: 0:45 min/100m

On the whole, amongst all the participants at our branch, we completed a total of 50k (2000 laps) while raising exactly $1400 for Strong Kids, both surpassing the goal that had initially been set.  I like to think Frank is proud.

As for me, I’ve already committed to next years’ swim and hope to even set a time goal of under three hours to boot; time to up the game a bit.

Yesterday I ticked off the second of my unique mental toughness “events” for 2014 with completing the full ‘Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids’ at the Port Colborne YMCA.  I did it last year (click HERE) too but it was thoroughly unplanned and completely spontaneous so this year represents a more conscious effort to prepare and complete.  In essence, it’s a premeditated attempt to reacquire this elusive ‘Mental Toughness’ I felt I once had but, truthfully, who’s ever going to pass up the opportunity to be referred to as a ‘Champion’ for the day? Not this fat guy.

1

Enjoying it while I can.

But more on that later…

It was an amazing day.  Besides the staff and volunteers at the Port Colborne YMCA, there were members from the local Special Olympics swim team and junior swimmers from another competitive swim team.  Let me tell you, these kids can swim!  There was a “special needs” (I use this term loosely as, in the water, this guy needed no special ‘assistance’ I can assure you) swimmer for the majority of the time doing the backstroke like it was his job.  Often there were chances throughout the day for the random 25m  and 50m  sprints with the swimmers in the adjacent lanes just for the fun of it because, hey, what else is there to do really?  Besides, when two swimmers reach the wall at the same time, it’s the equivalent of two teenagers at an intersection in their powerful sports cars, looking across at one another through slightly tinted windows and revving their engines while waiting for the light to turn green.  I believe it’s just an unwritten rule.

So, anyway, this type of passive aggressive socializing with other swimmers, along with the girl who would tap me on the head every half hour or so to remind me to drink, pretty much passed the first two hours quite comfortably.  But then people started leaving to the point where I was pretty much the only person left; not so much fun but, hey, it was not completely unexpected nor entirely outside the ‘Master Plan’ anyway so I kept plodding along.

400 laps.  That's two down, mom.

400 laps. That’s two down, mom.

It’s funny what goes through your head at these moments when you’re really, really tired.  Truthfully, up to the 8k or so point in the swim my arms and shoulders felt great, but those last few hundred meters sure sucked as the fatigue and boredom began to set in.  How do those real long distance swimmers do it?  For example, I know a girl who is preparing to be the youngest swimmer to swim across Lake Ontario and she completes these types of distance swims, like, daily.  How amazing is that?  Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

Maybe someday.

I also got to meet Frank himself.  Before today, I’ve never met Frank, but I’ve seen him before.  Approximately seven years ago on my third visit to the St. Catharines YMCA (I was still very new to the whole new ‘lifestyle change’ thing) I heard a few people talking about this guy who was swimming 10 kilometers in the pool for charity.  In short, I thought he was nuts and didn’t give it a further thought beyond that.

Meeting the original founder and inspiration for this whole thing.

I call this “Two Nuts Poolside”

Later – 3 years to be exact – I completed my first successful season competing in local Sprint distance triathlons.  And by “completed”, I simply mean I survived and my heart didn’t spontaneously combust inside my chest.  The part that I had really enjoyed, however, was the swim.  Where most people I trained with at the time either dreaded the swim or referred to it as something you simply endured, I simply loved the exhilaration of splashing limbs, jockeying for position, and otherwise just trying to not get knocked the fuck out.  Maybe I’m just wired differently as I enjoy swimming and it has become the hallmark of my race strategy in past events to be out first and ahead of my peers while feeling good.  So, suddenly, swimming was something of particular interest to me (it still is).  As fate would have it, I walked in one afternoon to the same YMCA (three years later) and I see the sign-up for the, yep, you guessed it, the ‘Franks 10k Swim for Strong Kids’.  What the hell?

It's official.

It’s official.

Of course, at the time I could only do 700m or 800m   comfortably (which was quite far by my standards back then) but it was more about just making a donation to support a good local cause, not to mention swimming a few laps with (well, alongside…at the other end of the pool) Frank and it made me feel good.  So this year, as with past years, I decided to do it again but with a little more fore-thought into, you know, actually preparing for it properly.  I can see myself getting into endurance swimming at some point when all this crazy Ironman madness runs its course, so I thought it was a good opportunity to explore my current limits with swimming.  So, yes, it did give me an excellent opportunity to further poke the pruny barriers of my own performance with a stick…a huge, pointy, evil-looking stick.

Mission accomplished.

While I have other events and races planned for 2014 beginning in another month or so, as well as the rest of the racing season, I specifically have only the one more targeted “Mental Toughness” challenge to complete (in September) before I flip the switch again and leap feet first back into the Ironman arena come 2015.

That’s the plan anyway, so stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed.

  • The Big Move (click to see stats) 
  • 114.7k (5:23:17)
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 127 bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 167 bpm
  • Avg. Speed/Pace = 21.3/kph
  • Calories = 4975

Being the ‘Tail End Charlie’ for the Big Move charity ride has become something of a tradition for me; something to hang my hat on for long, hard season of training.  And while I didn’t exactly – *ahem* – train so hard this year I still did an awful lot to keep myself busy and active.  So that’s pretty awesome.

Usually, the Big Move is my last “fun event” before my big schedule A-event of the year (last year it was Ironman Wales, the year before it was the Cancun 70.3) but, this year it’s just another awesome opportunity to throw on the big pile ‘o fun I’ve been having thus far this year.  This will be my fourth year running being the last man to cross that Finishing line.  There should be some kind of special recognition for that achievement, shouldn’t there?

Anyway, as usual, here are the ride highlights as best as I could capture them.

This years mantra.

This years mantra.

Volunteering again.

Volunteering again.

The Starting Line just prior to the 100k ride.

The Starting Line just prior to the 100k ride.

Birdhouses along River Rd.

Birdhouses along River Rd.

Barn along Concession 6 Rd.

Barn along Concession 6 Rd.

Barn door (Concession 6 Rd.)

Barn door (Concession 6 Rd.)

River Rd.

River Rd.

River Rd.

River Rd.

Barn along Church Str.

Barn along Church Str.

More barn along Church Str.

More barn along Church Str.

Motivation at the corner of Canboro Rd. & Cream Str.

Motivation at the corner of Canboro Rd. & Cream Str.

Until next year cycling fans…