Posts Tagged ‘Reflections’

(Disclaimer:  I’m not really confident that I’ve articulated myself well in this post but I have committed myself to 100% transparency within these blog pages for good and for bad, so please continue on with a grain of salt.  My apologies in advance if I upset or insult any of my fellow sensitive yogi’s.)

Over the past 2-3 years I’ve developed this love- hate relationship with yoga.  Where I used to do it on a near daily basis and genuinely believed it was a major contributor to me doing so well in my past long distance triathlon events, I’ve really struggled to get back to practicing regularly.

I’ve tried and failed on few occasions now (click HERE and HERE) to incorporate a regular yoga session into my weekly training schedule.  But miss it as I do from time to time, truthfully, I’ve been really nervous – skeptical even – about getting back into it so I’ve never really committed myself to making it a reality.  I’m not even 100% sure why.

Then recently a friend (Vanessa) advertised that she would be leading a drop-in class at a new studio in Fort Erie, On the Mat and I thought to myself, “Okay, let’s give this another shot”.

How bad could it be?

And, honestly, it wasn’t bad at all.

Awesome actually.

I thoroughly enjoyed the class and she was awesome (she played great music completely void of the traditional New Age-y whale song bullshit), however, I also rediscovered one of the reasons why I think I became so disconnected with yoga in the first place: it makes me feel awkward.

Allow me to explain a bit more.

Have you ever had to join a new school in the middle of the school year?  I have and it’s awkward.  Suddenly you’re air dropped into this new room with all new faces and where bonds and relationships have already been formed and cultivated.  You’re immediately the outcast, the unknown…the outsider.

Now, kids being the cruel little monsters they are don’t make it any easier does it?  Often times (it was with me anyway), there is a hazing phase before you transgress to becoming one of the recognized collective and this process can take weeks to months before you’re truly accepted.

Yoga (for a guy anyway) can be just like that.

Of course, as an adult now no one is going to throw pudding in my face or threaten to meet me at the Four-Way stop after class to bash my face into pulp, hells no!

But let’s just say I don’t anticipate a lot of ‘hello’s either.

Suddenly this “Beer Yoga” (click HERE) was beginning to sound a lot more enticing.

Hell, I bet the baby goats in “Goat Yoga” (click HERE) wouldn’t be so off-ish would they?

When I first pulled up outside the Fort Erie studio I looked through the front window as the first class was wrapping up, I saw all your stereotypical henna-ed, dolphin tattooed cuties in their fancy Lululmeon garb and I absolutely panicked.

Honestly.

Full on panic.

I almost pulled away and went home (For the record, I’m glad I didn’t).

Being a little early, once the class cleared out I ventured in when while it was quiet said my hello to the instructor (whom I already know well – Hi Vanessa!), paid my $10 and proceeded to set up my mat and await the next participants to arrive.

Easy-peasy, right?

But here’s where it got a little weird.

There I am, sitting on my mat in the middle of the room, the new guy, the outsider, and in comes the next wave of young spandex-clad yoga bunnies, who suddenly hesitate for a split second when they see the new face…a bearded one at that.  Reading their expressions, it’s as if they think that they’ve just walked into the wrong place or something.  In an attempt to assimilate myself I smile politely and, suddenly, their eyes are immediately diverted to the floor or the other side of the room.

Shit.

Here we go again.

For the next 10-15 minutes I sit there pretending not to notice everyone else pretending not to notice me as they set up their mats pretty much as far away from me as they can along the periphery of the class until, I’m this sole island in the middle of the room with no immediate neighbor.

I don’t care what anyone says:  this makes me feel weird.

Yoga tends to be a very female-centric practice and being the sole dude in the studio doesn’t often come without its awkwardness.  And I get it, the girls are trying not be objectified, or whatever it is they’re overtly concerned with but when did not returning a friendly gesture become normal practice?

I realize that in comparison, I look like Shrek with more facial hair but geez Louise, c’mon girls!

Be nice already.

There’s “No judgement in yoga”, right?

Ha.

Anyway, I signed up for a 10 class pass which I hoped would more successfully re-open the door to my rebuilding a regular practice once again.

And it did.

I went faithfully each week and I now feel stronger, my nagging injuries from the New Year are gone and I’m ready to transition into my long distance phase of training outside beginning next month (tomorrow).

So overall, getting back into this yoga thing once again was a big success for me and one I’m not parting with again with some disappointment.

But, alas, there is only so much time in the day…week…month.

You get the idea.

Hopefully, I’d like to keep the practice up once a week on my own (or at the YMCA) but I just don’t have the flexibility to commit to a full on membership at the moment.

But I’ll be back.

Oh, and because I’ve been dying to say it:

Every time an instructor tells me to “clear my mind”, or “quiet my mind”, this is actually what is going on in my brain:

It’s pointless.

So let’s just get to it, shall we?

Oh and, hey ladies, if a new guy in class smiles nicely, there’s likely no need to cross to the other side of the room, maybe he’s just hoping to fit in and be made to feel welcome.

Just sayin’…

“Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

About two weeks ago I noticed I wasn’t attacking my normal weekly workouts with quite the same enthusiasm.  Sure, I was still on the mend with a nagging run injury but everything was still looking up with some decent 90 minute tempo rides on the trainer and decent mileage in the pool.

But, still, I wasn’t looking forward to the workouts themselves.

And then last week I slept through a swim workout on the Friday and on Sunday, I attempted an anticipated long swim of about 7,000m, except that after a mere 2,000m  I pulled the plug.

I just didn’t want to be doing it anymore.

It’s not that I was fatigued, or sore, or anything like.  Truthfully, I felt fine physically…keeping in mind that I also completed 5 hours of spinning the day before for the Move for Strong Kids Campaign at the Port Colbourne YMCA (Saturday) and then a 10k run on that morning prior to hopping in the pool.

But mentally, I just didn’t have it in me…so time for a break.

Now to add a bit of perspective on this, two years ago I would have told myself to “buck up, sissypants” and continued on with the training.

“Breaks are for pussies.”

But we all know how that turned out in the end:  click HERE and HERE.

So recognizing these signs and then making the decision to take seven days off, I think, represents a significant amount of growing maturity on my part as an athlete.

YAY ME!

Having saying this, an entire week off was always in the training plan and in this case it couldn’t have come at a better time.  So all I have done this week is my 15 minute core every afternoon, hydrate like a beast, a little bit of yoga and a whole lotta sitting around.  As well, I’ve been chatting with Coach Nicole and in one of our chats she mentioned this little tidbit:

“Ironman is one of those things where when you hit a low spot, you can sometimes hit a reeeeeeeeally low spot and when you ask yourself why you’re there, doing this crazy thing, you REALLY need to know the answer to that question!  It’s what’ll always get you through the dips.”

Of course, this got me to thinking this afternoon:  why am I doing this?

Of course, I’ve pondered this question numerous times already and have likely offered many rationalizations on several posts to this blog already but in the spirit of “Recovery Week” this week, I’m revisiting this question again.

Why am I doing this?

To the coaches point, if that answer is not immediately obvious then perhaps it’s time to reevaluate what it is I really want to accomplish through this Ironman process.

Fair enough.

After all, there has to more to the big picture than regular suffering and ultimate burnout, right?

However, easier to answer is the reason why I am not doing it.

For example, I do not think that I am special or gifted in any way relating to endurance sports; I’m just a guy and pride has nothing to do with this.

Sure triathlon represent s big accomplishment over what my life used to be (click HERE for the last part of the whole transformation story and links back to the beginning) but I am not doing it because I have any real gift for it and am looking for any bragging rights. I couldn’t necessarily have said that in the past but, now, this is certainly true.

In other words, I realize that I am not a professional; Lionel Sanders I am not.  I have to work stupid hard simply to make it to the starting line, much less to the finish.  Sometimes I do well, and other times I completely tank it (click HERE and HERE for some reminders).  Of course I’m not suggesting that professionals like Lionel Sanders don’t work hard but, hey, let’s face it, they have the “gift”.

I do not.

Also, it’s their job.

I’m just an Average Joe and that means that I have other responsibilities in life and need to be more strategic in the way that I approach everything…family, earning a pay check, and training included.

Likewise, I’m no spring chicken anymore.  If I go and pound out a 12 kilometer fartlek run, or spend 90 minutes doing hill repeats on the bike, I’m likely going to be sore the next day and can’t necessarily do as much the next day where even 5 years ago I probably could.

So, again, I need to be smarter and focus less on what others are doing (mileage, hours, etc.) and more on what is right for own body and lifestyle, seeing as how I also have a day job and two very engaged girls in my life who also want to spend time with me.

Mark Twain said it best, “everything popular is wrong”  (thanks Nicole) and it’s really amazing how you start to view and react to the world and people and situations differently when you begin to view life through that lens.

Knowing and understanding these things is HUGE.

First and foremost, I’m a dad and a husband so part and parcel with that are the daily and weekly responsibilities around having a happy and functional family life, therefore training always has to take the back seat (albeit, my wife will likely dispute that a bit).  While I aim to be a rock star on the race course, I also aspire to be a rock star at life, namely at home and one simply cannot do that if I’m a) never around, or b) tired and broken 24/7.

There needs to be a “symbiotic relationship”.

There’s the Coach being all smart n’ shit again.

I didn’t have those responsibilities before.

It was always  about me.

So if I’m feeling burnt out, taking a break isn’t the end of the world.  In all honesty, it’s damn good thing!  It’s a resetting and recharging period to focus on the family and having a little fun, and get my mental and physical strength back so I can proceed to do it all over again in the coming weeks and, maybe, in two more months I will even do it once more.

Who knows?

But back to the question at hand, why am I doing this?

I guess my reason nowadays is that I want to set a good example for not only my daughter but my community.  I want to represent what it takes to be a good father, husband, community member (after all, I have local sponsors now to support!  *giggle*) and, yes, an Ironman – and, of course, I enjoy piecing together the parts of making the whole epic scene come together.

I want to epitomize what is possible  with dedication and focus.

I like having a physical challenge to rise to but, lately, I’m also enjoying the puzzle of putting it altogether so that not only does it happen but that there are no regrets in the end.  Even after Ironman Wales in 2012, I went into a profound “Ironfunk”.  Great that I did well n’ all, don’t get me wrong – but it was nearly two  years before I even started to feel like myself again.  In fact, it’s only now 5 years later that I’m actually getting around to doing it again.

I don’t want that happen this time around.

I would even like to think that I might even do it yet again.  Qualifying for Kona was originally the endgame when I started this blog, right?

Yes, I know I was still riding high on my laurels of completing my first Ironman at the time, but still…

Who knows?

My goal now is to obviously complete this thing in July and feel like I did my absolute best, competing to the level that I believe is within me.

However, and most importantly, I want to finish it feeling good and ready to tackle the next challenge down the road whatever that might be.  I want to inspire my daughter to realize that she can do things that might at first seem difficult, even impossible…if she just puts the technology down for a few seconds.  Life and everything in it is a gift.  And knowing that just last week, my body’s central nervous system was on the verge of collapse, well, pushing through it just didn’t seem to be in keeping with this last objective, does it?

Onward and forward…

So I have one more day of tomorrow and then, come Monday, it’s back nose to the grindstone with a renewed vigor.

This evening then, it’s records, maybe a wee drinky poo and bullshit session at the bar courtesy of The Sanctuary and simply enjoying the little things in life.

The Shark

Posted: February 15, 2017 in In Transition, Swim
Tags: , ,

I first started swimming at the Port Colborne YMCA and Aquatic Center about 2-3 years ago.

Now, it’s never easy being the new guy on deck at a new pool.  Here the swimmers were typically older (seniors most of them) and had obviously been swimming together in the mornings for quite some time.  Before that (I have since learned), they swam at the now closed Centennial Pool in Port Colborne.  In other words, they were all very familiar with one another as well as each others swim pace and specific routines, and they already had a predetermined order to the way in which they organized themselves in regard to who swam with whom, and in what lane, so on and so forth.

And this young buck in Speedo’s with the Santa’s sack of fancy swim toys shows up and everything is completely FUBAR-ed.  It’s made only worse that he also happens to swim at double the pace of those currently using the Fast Lane.

Needless to say, we didn’t necessarily all get along well in the beginning.

However, over time they grew to know me, and I them, and I have more or less been accepted into the common collective of local swimmers in Port Colborne and we have reorganized ourselves accordingly in that we can all successfully get to the business of swimming without it feeling like Mortal Combat.

It took some time but we eventually did it.

During that initial “getting to know you” phase though it was, well, let’s just say that it was ‘awkward’ at the best of times.

One of the first swimmers to make an effort to get to know me was an English woman named Margaret.  One morning, out of the blue, she invited me into her lane which we then proceeded to split down the middle so that we wouldn’t be in each others way.  To me, this was kind of like Diane Fossey being accepted into her troop of mountain gorillas on some remote mountainside in Rwanda somewhere.  At last I was accepted as one of their own.

Well, with Margaret anyway.

The others?  Maybe not so much (at that point anyway).

We continued sharing a lane for some time after that and even started chit-chatting at the wall periodically between sets.

She was curious about the kind of workouts I was doing, the distances, and of course all the weird-looking pool toys (pool buoys, fins, paddles, etc.) I brought with me (click HERE for but a small sample).  She even became a little interested in how they worked so I invited her to try using some of them which she did before politely nodding her head that, “yes, that’s definitely different, isn’t it?”  in that adorable English accent before going back to doing whatever it was she was doing.  However, I did notice sometimes that while I was doing my sets she would occasionally reach into my bag of swim tricks on the wall and help herself to a pair of small paddles, or maybe my fins, do a few lengths, and then replace them again carefully.

I was only too happy to oblige.

Sometimes we would even race each other.  I would try to complete a 100m interval in the same time it took her to swim 50m.  It was a way of pushing ourselves through a little friendly competition.  She usually completed her interval seconds before I could finish mine, but I was getting closer.  And of course there was just the proper amount of egging one another on at the all as well.

“You just got beat by an old lady!”, was her favorite.

Funny that my swim partner would turn out to be an 70+ year old lady with penchant for trash talking.

Rather appropriately I think, I nicknamed her “The Shark”.

But then Margaret stopped showing up altogether.

Now it’s not terribly unusual for one of the old timers to go AWOL at some point.  Usually, one at a time it seems, they will inevitably head off south on vacation for a few weeks at a time, but they all eventually come back eventually looking like an old boot; such was the ebb and flow when swimming with seniors.  So I half expected Margaret to come waltzing back onto the pool deck as some point as well all tanned up.

But she never did.

In fact, months passed and no Margaret.

I figured that maybe she had moved onto something else, or moved away altogether.  It happens.  By this time though I more or less owned the Fast Lane and the other regulars stayed out of my way (except Bill, who I am sure has been sent here by the gods like some sort of a Classical pool harpy, to interrupt all my workouts by getting in my way as often as possible).

More months passed.

Then this morning, low and behold, there she was.

She looked a little confused and proceeded to plop herself into a completely different lane (not ours), but when she saw me she smiled broadly and announced “I remember you!”

Umm, hey…thanks?

She mentioned to me that she hadn’t swam in two years and, again, there was that confused look.  When I congratulated her for being back, she just shrugged her shoulders and started swimming…zig-zagging down the middle of the lane…without her goggles on.

Long story short, Margaret has developed Alzheimer’s and recently lost her driver’s license and therefore, her ability to get to and from the pool every day.  This morning, however, her husband must have brought her so that she could finally get back in the pool.

She didn’t immediately recognize everyone else but I am thrilled that she remembered me and our “workouts”.  She even started to ask how my swimming was going, what distances I had gotten myself up to and if I was still planning to race again this year.

In other words, it was as if we had just picked up where we left off…trash talk n’ all.

It was a real joy for me to see her swimming again and, clearly, she both loves and misses it judging by the HUGE smile on her face.  And while we might not have shared a lane this morning, I will definitely be sure to return the favor and invite her into my lane (whether she remembers me or not) with me if she continues to show up in future mornings, just as she originally did with me.

Welcome back, Margaret.

And for the record, in her absence I’ve only gotten faster.

As she said this morning:  “I see I have some work to do”.

You bet your sweet bippy you do, Shark.

I think everyone has obsessions of some sort, whether it be simply collecting things (of which I have many different collections ranging from vinyl records to bread clips), or Cacodemonomania (the constant belief that you are possessed by a demon, if only so you can say, “Don’t blame me.  It’s Cthulu’s fault I’m running late”).

Whatever it is, it completely consumes you to a certain degree.

Triathletes are no exception.  We are the Batman of the sporting world with absolutely no limit to amount of technological gizmos that we will own and use to enhance our racing and training programs.  As such, we are easily obsessed with these different nuances of our sport; especially given the extreme amount of data, information and equipment that is readably available.  Some of us will obsess over our bikes and biking paraphernalia, insisting on having the most state-of-art aerodynamics and performance-enhancing devices, others will obsess over the amount of data they record during their different blocks of training as a means of evaluating their progress.

While I don’t necessarily have all the latest devices and gizmo’s and, truthfully, I am beginning to lean more towards the “less is better” methodology of training, I am certainly guilty of having a few obsessions and when it comes to swimming, it seems that for whatever reason, my obsession lies with owning swim paddles.

In fact, you could consider this post then as “my life in swim paddles” as certainly, this weird obsession with paddles is very representative of my own development over the past six or so years as a serious swimmer.

It’s true, my swim bag is cram-packed with stuff so that I likely look more like Santa lugging around his toy sack between lanes.

All I’m missing is the beard and a reindeer leading the way (which, now that I think about it, might be a novel idea on how to better pace myself through long intervals).

This obsession all started innocently enough about two years into my journey as a triathlete-slash-swimmer (click HERE for a taste of those early days).  Our swim coaches at the time Bill and Roberto used to talk about the importance of incorporating some “paddle work” into weekly swim workouts.  Of course, at the time I was just lucky to not drown so I never paid it a second thought.  Eventually when I became a little more proficient in the water, a fellow TryForce member (Hi Chantelle!) mentioned that she was going to the Team Aquatics store in Burlington, Ontario to pick up a pair of paddles and offered to grab me a pair as well.

“Yeah, why not?”, I figured and readably agreed.

These are what I was handed a few days later:

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These little babies are aimed at allowing you to focus on your catch and your pull and vertical forearm.  Likewise, they are good for lengthening your stroke and overall keeping good focus throughout most phases of the stroke.  In other words, they are perfect for developing your “technique” and, yes, they can also be used for backstroke but, seriously, I didn’t do a lot of that anyway so who cares?

These worked great as I was in my development stage by that point.  But fast forward a year later and I’m swimming with The Coach and she suggests we do some paddle work.  So upon pulling out my teeny weeny paddles she begins to laugh uncontrollably.

Mocking definitely ensued.

It was kind of like that moment in Crocodile Dundee when a street hood decides to pull a knife on him:

It was some time before I lived that one down.

So, I decided to up the ante and invest on what I figured were the next level up paddle.

These beauties:

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Tech or technique paddles are designed mainly for aiding water-feel.  They have a nice, comfortable clam-shape to them that were easy to put on and comfortable to wear.

They kind of looked like what this chick is riding on:

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They are designed to aid catch, early vertical forearm (EVF), strength and pull; a bit of a Jack-of-all-trades as swim paddles go.  They are useful for building up shoulder strength primarily and I used these semi-religiously leading up to my 1st and 2nd Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids.    I largely credit these for having the strong shoulders I developed over those two years.  I still use these from time to time but then I noticed that they weren’t quite as difficult to use as they once were and started becoming a little, well, bored with them.

But then one day Kyle Jones jumped in the lane beside me and he was using a pair of these:

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These Finis Agility paddles are now my favorite paddle and I regularly use them regularly.  They have no strap and fit on each hand using a simple thumb hole.  In order to keep them on your hands during the stroke you must keep a good catch and pull through on every stroke.  Everyone who has tried these has felt the immediate technique feedback and, likely, these may just be the best paddles on the market. And if you want just one paddle, I’d recommend these.

But did my obsession stop there?

Oh, HELLS NO!

I still wanted to incorporate regular strength building into my weekly routine beyond what my old Tech paddles did so, recently, I made another trip back to Team Aquatics and purchased these bad boys:

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Specifically, these Speedo Power Paddles are designed to create enough water resistance to build up your upper body strength.  They also help encourage you to keep your elbows high as you work through your stroke, for a faster, more powerful swim.

Plus, they look pretty bad ass.

There is absolutely nothing fancy-schmancy about them.  It’s basically a flat, plastic swim paddle that is fitted over your hand by mere pieces of rubber tubing fitted through small holes in the paddle itself. In other words, there are no bells and whistles to these things which is keeping to my more minimalistic “no frills” approach to training these days.

But am I done yet?

Not likely.

Not even close.

Now I’m eyeing these paddles for the very near future.

finis-freestyler-hand-paddles

Specifically designed for freestyle training, the Freestyler Hand Paddles plane the hand forward through the water, improving reach and distance-per-stroke.  With a long fin shape and unique “skeg design”, the Freestyler Hand Paddles promote a strong pull through, better hip-rotation and increased efficiency. An adjustable finger strap offers a perfect fit and the narrow surface area helps prevent shoulder strain.

Maybe Santa will be good to me this year.

**fingers crossed**

“Fabia’s Big Ride”

Posted: October 11, 2016 in Bike
Tags: , ,

So this past holiday weekend (yesterday) I got to do something very special of which I am immensely proud.  And not necessarily for myself either.  No, yesterday marked HRH‘s epic bike ride from our home here in Ridgeway to Lock 3 in St. Catharines and onward to the grandparents’ house.  This is what the last 3-4 weeks of cycling with the kiddo have all been leading up to…her own Ironman journey, so to speak.

I don’t have a lot to say that I haven’t already posted HERE so, instead, here’s a record of the trip in pictures:

We left at 10:15am after a big breakfast, a coffee and a poop.  Well, I did anyway.

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We first rode along the Friendship Trail from here in Ridgeway for approximately 14 kilometers passing through Sherkston to Port Colborne.

We arrived just in time to make it across the Lock 7 bridge before a boat passed through on it’s way to Lake Erie.

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We then joined up with the Canal Trail beginning at the Robin Hood plant and, from there, we simply pedaled northbound towards St. Catharines stopping briefly at the Flatwater Center in Dain City for a picture in the grandstand.

The autumn colors were in full bloom along the entire pathway. This is one of the reasons why I consider myself so lucky to live and ride where I do.

Absolutely gorgeous.

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As we had planned, we stopped for a brief lunch of peanut butter and jelly and a few apple slices at the Flatwater Center in Welland before continuing on again.

It wasn’t long afterwards that HRH  learned another valuable lesson about riding:  always spit out and to the side…not directly ahead into the wind.  Hey, some lessons you just have to learn the hard way.

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We continued pedaling on through Allanburg towards Thorold for another 20k or so.  Fortunately at this point, the majority of the ride was on a gradual downhill as we were heading north down the Niagara Escarpment but there was still the odd small hill every so often to conquer just to remind her that this was meant to be something of a challenge.

After all, anything that matters take a little work right?

After another hour or so we popped out at the tippy-top of the Flight Locks in Thorold to begin our big decent down to our finish destination at the Lock 3 Viewing Complex.

Oh, we stopped for these candid shots with the amazing murals in Thorold as well.

It was only another 10-15 minutes from there before we arrived at our intended “finish line” after 53 kilometers of cycling.  Of course, we had to take the obligatory victory photos.

I had even brought along my dad for the ride seeing as how I was using his bike (click HERE) and I like to think he was looking down on us from somewhere smiling.

This one however I think is the real winner on the day:

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Of course, it took her a moment to get it up there in the first place.

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So a celebratory hot chocolate was definitely in order.

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Lastly, we tackled the final 2 kilometers to grandma and grandpa’s house and a well-deserved treat.

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So what does an 11-year-old cyclist do to warm down after a long, chilly, autumn ride?

Why, this little ensemble of course:

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I’m sure all the greats had one:  Eddy Merckz, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Induráin, Greg LeMonde…shit, I hear Chris Froome even warms down in a fuzzy Kermit the Frog suit.

Me?

I’ll stick to the essentials.

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Anyway, this was just about the best way to begin winding down the riding season if you ask me.  I know I’m currently getting in the mindset to renew my Ironman training so I figure having a little fun before that hammer drops would be a good idea.

Besides, if you can’t enjoy your passions with the ones you love…what’s the point?

(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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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!