Sunday, 29 December 2013

This song makes no sense!!!

Music is a huge part of my training. A good song can change the tempo of a run and a bad one can bring you down. As I hear some of my favourite songs more and more I start to question what the hell some of the writers were thinking when they wrote them.

Snoop Dogg is widely regarded as a bad ass in the song Gin and Juice. But in a song praising liquor and marijuana he states "and the party's still jumpin' cause my momma ain't home." Really? You're a hard core gang banger! But if mom's home then the party's over? WEAK!

Nicki Minaj! In the song Your Love she's talking about a guy she loves and a dream sequence she had: "Anyway I think I met him in the sky When I was a Geisha he was a Samurai Somehow I understood him when he spoke Thai."  AAAAAAAHHHHH!!! Geishas and Samurai are Japanese. You're right! Speaking Thai would be weird! NOT ALL ASIANS ARE THE SAME!!!

Notorious B.I.G. A legend, without doubt and the man I've chosen to model myself after. At least the big part anyway. Big Poppa is a wicked song but there's always one part that makes me shake my head.  He says, "If you got a gun up in your waist please don't shoot up the place."  A very reasonable request. However, one of the members of his crew asks "why?" What the hell do you mean? Why should he not shoot up a night club? I don't know, maybe because murder isn't cool. Maybe random shootings are bad form. Great song, bad lyric.

Jay Z. Another wonderful rap artist. However in Can I Get A there's a lyric I finally had to look up because I was confused. He's explaining to a young lady that he is courting that if she decides to leave him he still has the goods on her because they had relations: "I'm talkin bout good livin are we here, you wit us? If not boo, you know what, I still F$%&ed you." After looking it up I'm much happier with the lyrics because what I heard every time was most disturbing. I heard "you know what, I still F%&# sheep." Why would he do that? He has Beyonce at home! I don't like to judge but I found it hard not to. Anyway, great artist but annunciation can be critical.

These are just the most egregious examples I can think of currently. Rap artists, please listen. Just because something rhymes doesn't mean it works in the song!!!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

What Went Right?

It's been a little over a week since my breakthrough performance at Ironman Arizona and I've had a chance to really analyze what exactly happened to allow me to perform at a level I never thought I could achieve. I've broken it down into a few key areas that I think many people in my situation could really benefit from.  Once again, I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination but what I do have is experience. I'm now a 5-time Ironman finisher and with that comes 5 full "seasons" of training that are anywhere from 3 months to a year in length and there are a great deal of learning opportunities in there.

The first and most obvious difference I made in my life was diet. The past few races I've hovered around 275 lbs and this was where I thought I had stalled permanently. As I mentioned in my previous blog on diet , it doesn't matter how much you train, if you eat like trash you will not lose weight. I finally knuckled down and got back on Weight Watchers and carefully tracked my food. The result was a loss of 25 lbs between Ironman Coeur d'Alene in June and Ironman Arizona in November. Not having to haul 25 extra lbs around for 12 hours was a really big difference in my day.

The next big difference I noticed on race day was my footwear on the run. For some reason I've tried to wear minimalist shoes to run marathons. If you've seen me, there's nothing minimalist about me. I'm 250 lbs for crying out loud!!! By switching from shoes that are little more that a cover for your feet to a shoe that resembles the shoes you wear if one leg is shorter than the other I took the bulk of the ground's impact out of my legs. Thinking about the fact that a marathon is 42.2km of running and your stride is around a metre that's 21,000 times each foot will strike the ground. If you can take the impact out of each of those steps that's a major difference and the result was a marathon time over an hour faster than any I'd done before. I implore you, if you are having trouble running a minimum of 10km without walking, stop what you're doing right now and buy a pair of Hoka One Ones. Or if you just like running pain free, whatever your reason, you NEED these shoes!

Hoka One Ones. I believe that's Hawaiian for Foot Love (I haven't looked this up).

For the past year or so I'd been having trouble with my left knee and I had never really taken care of it. It was weak and would give out on me when I was skating and I finally got fed up to the point that I went to physiotherapy and got it looked after. I realized how bad it was when the physio had me do some comparative exercises to see how imbalanced I was; it was ridiculous. On the leg extension machine, where you essentially sit in a chair and straighten your leg, I was unable to even lift the pad without any additional weight on it. My leg would shake and then collapse. Yikes, I was basically getting around on one leg. In a sport where your legs do the bulk of the work taking away half of your power system is a poor decision. I really focused on doing my physio homework and I'm at a point now where my legs are approaching equality again. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I turned in a bike split that was not only almost an hour and a half faster than any race I'd ever done, it was almost 50 minutes faster than the average time for ANYONE on that course. After the bike leg I was in 45th out of 220 in my AG and 414 out of 2700 overall.

All of these changes are good, but ultimately it is your training that is going to get you over the finish line of an Ironman, or any race for that matter. When I first decided to do an Ironman I relied heavily on the tutelage of people that had done it before me. One of these mentors was Kevin Cochrane. Not only did I teach alongside Kevin but I was a student of his when I was in the 10th grade. Kevin is a MULTIPLE Ironman finisher, not sure exactly how many but over 10 anyway and I hold him in very high esteem. We were talking shortly before my first race and I was telling him how nervous I was and he gave me a piece of advice that I've kept with me since. Kevin said, "you've already done the work. You've been training hard and now you just go out and do it." I sat back and realized he was absolutely right. You don't finish an Ironman on the day of the race, it's the 4am training session before work or the 11pm session on holidays that gets you over the finish line. I've used his words in two ways, the first is to calm myself before a race but the second is during training. I channel the mantra that "today is why you finish Ironman" on training days when I'm just not feeling up to it. This pushes me through my little hiccup and allows me to finish up my set and get the maximum out of my training.

My coach Jeremy was absolutely critical and I would recommend everyone get a coach, or at least join a team where there is some accountability to your training. By nature you have to be self-motivated to finish an Ironman but it is so nice to have people to brag to about a great session. You can tell your friends and family about how well it's going but if they don't have an understanding of what exactly you're talking about you don't get the same feedback or celebration as you do from a group of like-minded athletes. Jeremy had me push my limits in terms of how hard I would train during my sessions. A great deal of my runs and rides were "tempo" where you pushed yourself beyond your comfortable pace for an extended period of time. This did a couple of things for me: it allowed me to train less because you get as much out of a session going hard for a short period of time as you do going for a long slow ride or run. Also, my body got used to going fast, so on race day when I was just coasting it was still a really quick pace. In training I was consistently running 8 minute miles for half hour sets, so on race day when I was cranking out 12 minute miles it felt like a slow jog and I maintained it for just over 5 hours.

Another major change I made from Coeur d'Alene to Arizona was a greater focus on weight training. I've read a number of triathletes who have focused more heavily on weights recently than in the past and they almost all agree that the biggest difference for them is the ability it gives them to push a little bit harder when they need it. Whether it's passing someone, summiting a hill or just enduring a little bit longer it gives them that boost. I don't lift particularly heavy, I'm not trying to bulk up, simply give myself enough strength to climb a hill with some speed.

I start my next training cycle on December 2nd for Ironman Texas taking place on May 17th. It's exciting to know that by focusing on strength, tempo and weight loss I should be in great shape heading into Ironman number 6.

Train hard my friends!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Ironman Arizona: A Love Story

Unfortunately for you guys this trip was about as good as it can be so there's not nearly as much to write about as past races.

Mom and I left on Friday morning which, in retrospect, was a poor decision. First off, it meant we had to be up at the crack of F$%& to get to the airport. Two days before an Ironman is not exactly the best time to be missing out on sleep. You're right in that final prep phase and even if it doesn't have a physical impact on your performance the potential is there for a mental impact. Convincing yourself you're tired can be just as bad as actually being tired. The other risk you run cutting it so close is missing check in because of a flight delay. For Ironman you MUST be there 2 days prior to race day to check in. There is plenty of stuff to do prior to race day so this is a reasonable request by WTC (the company that owns Ironman). I decided to go down on the Friday to save a night in a hotel but when I look at the fact that it costs around $2500 to do a race, saving $80 on a hotel is a stupid risk to take. IDIOT!

As it happened, my Uncle Bill and Aunty Penny were headed out of town that same morning and because they're gone for a few weeks they rode with us so they didn't have to park their vehicle at the airport the entire time. Uncle Bill is kind of a big deal and flies a ton so he had some guest passes to the Air Canada lounge. What a civilized way to travel. As I sipped my cappuccino and snacked upon pastries I looked down on the zombies sitting in the departures lounge I smirked a grinchy grin. But it didn't matter. Their planes came just the same. They came without cookies, they came without wine. They came without wifi or couches divine! Sorry, got on a roll there. Regardless, it was so nice to be able to enjoy the lounge and relax that early in the morning, THANKS UNCLE BILL AND AUNTY PENNY!!!

We got through Calgary and on to Phoenix with no problems and seeing the desert sun was a welcome sight. When we got to the rental counter we were prepared for everything the agent could throw at us.
Agent:  Insurance?
Mom:   We've got it covered!
A:  Want us to fill the tank for you?
M:  Are you high, we can drive to a gas station!
A:   Glass coverage?
M:  Nope, we'll tell you that chip was there when we got it!
A:   Additional driver?
M:  No, I'll drive.
A:  Do you live at the same address?
M:  No. (DAMN! They got us on a technicality. I booked the car on Priceline so I have to be a driver) 
A:   Bigger vehicle?
M:  Hmmmmm, ok.  (I've done Ironman with a full size and it's not terrible, you just have to break you bike down a little to get it in the vehicle. So we upgraded to an SUV. Very nice. Let's keep this upgrade train rolling)
A:   Costco member?
M:  Yeah, why?
A:   Oh, well it's a cheaper upgrade fee. Tell you what, I'll waive the additional driver fee too.

FINALLY! My charm and good looks get me something

We were so excited to be in the warm weather that we decided to start driving before the GPS had synced with a satellite, in no particular direction. As it turned out we guessed poorly and headed away from our hotel, but we did it with purpose and I think that needs to be commended.

We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton in Tempe and it was great. Nothing amazing but a nice hotel close to the race site and the included breakfast was a nice surprise. They were also really supportive of the race and even had rags at the front desk for wiping down your bike so you didn't use your room towels. Great idea!

Friday evening was the traditional "carbo load" dinner so mom and I headed down to the event and, after a bit of off-roading, we found a sweet parking spot and headed into dinner. It was the standard chicken and pasta meal but they had a really nice seasoning on the chicken which was a nice surprise. It's an outdoor dinner but rather than sit at the tables mom and I decided to sit on the hill and eat and that was a really good decision. Not only was it nice to sit on the grass the setting made my deplorable table manners much less noticeable.

Saturday was a really nice day. After checking in my gear bags and bike we headed off to the outlet mall. I picked up some sweet deals on some skinny guy dress pants and some new Under Armour. The weirdest part of the day was the Christmas tree. Apparently the tree at the mall is the largest in the region and we were there on the day of the lighting. They had bleachers set up and people had staked out their spot before noon. Now on its own that would not be terribly weird, but the fact that it was 25 celcius and we were surrounded by cacti made it surreal.

That evening we went to the Arizona State football game. This is a real experience; I would encourage you all to try and get to an NCAA football game. The pageantry and tradition surrounding these games is just awesome. We stayed until half time as I needed to get some sleep but the show we saw up to that point was spectacular.

As I've mentioned before I try and learn something every race and improve upon it for the next time. This was no exception. I was always getting to the race site way too early so I timed it a little better at this race and arrived at 6am. This was perfect timing. It gave me enough time to get myself ready but not so much time that I was standing around bored. I did my standard bike check and to my chagrin my rear tire had popped over night. Fortunately the bike techs were amazing professionals and had my tube replaced and inflated in about 3 minutes.

Off to the swim start and this was a different experience than I've had before. Because of the nature of the venue it's a deep water start. This means that you're in the water floating around waiting for the start. I liked it because you really get acclimated to the water temperature and relaxed in your suit, and by that I mean you pee yourself. Before getting into the water I was chatting with a guy named Barry, bib number 2695 and I told him I'd look him up after the race to see how he did. I was absolutely thrilled when I looked him up and saw that he finished in 16:59:18. 42 SECONDS BEFORE MIDNIGHT! The last minute to qualify as an official Ironman finisher. So happy for him and I hope he gets to read this.

The water in Tempe is probably the only negative in this entire race. It's so murky that you can't even see your hand in front of your face. This wouldn't typically be a problem if you were just swimming but because of the concentration of people it makes for an uncomfortable swim. You are constantly swimming into people's feet and getting kicked in the face. It was a benefit to have enough experience in these events that I was able to keep calm despite the beating I took during the swim. It really was no one's fault and that makes it a lot easier to stomach. The organizer can't do anything about the water. The fact that we're swimming in a body of water in the middle of a desert is a miracle anyway so to complain about the water clarity would be ridiculous; and your fellow competitors can't see a thing so you can't blame them for slapping you around.

Overall the swim went exactly as expected, just keep moving and get out as best you can. As I stepped up onto the stairs my left calf cramped and I fell off the stairs back into the water. I grabbed the railing and pushed my foot into the stairs until it finally released. The amazing volunteers then lifted me out of the water and got my wetsuit off of me and I jogged into transition.

I mentioned I've learned from previous races and one of the things I tried this race was complete outfit changes. Typically I wore my tri suit under my wetsuit and just dealt with the wet and cold. One of the big downsides to a tri suit is that the chamois (pronounced "shammy") or butt pad is thin because it's designed for you to run in it after cycling. I decided to wear proper bike shorts which would take a little longer to put on but should lend a great deal more comfort over 180 km of cycling. This turned out to be a great decision and led to the best ride of my life.

The bike course is 3 loops of an out-and-back highway ride. It is fairly flat and can be mentally draining if you're having a tough day. Fortunately, I was having a great day! At first I was a little worried because I was passing people non-stop and flying at around 35km/hr on the outbound leg and on the return I was holding steady at 51km/hr. This sounds great but you start to wonder how you can possibly maintain this speed over the entire ride. After the first lap the wind turned on us and slowed up the group a little bit. Being a loop course I really enjoyed being able to time myself between familiar parts of the course. I really enjoyed focusing on pushing myself between different landmarks and seeing how I was progressing. At Ironman you're not allowed to listen to music while you race so you need to think about something. I finished up the bike leg in 5 hours 17 minutes.

Now, this bike ride went about as perfectly as you can expect but I did learn a valuable lesson. Knowing how fast I was going I did not want to stop for anything, even bathroom breaks. So, I stood up on my pedals, relaxed a little, and just peed. Ahh, sweet relief. However, I learned very quickly that if you have one foot at the top of the pedal stroke and one at the bottom your straight leg creates a very nice channel from your crotch to your shoe and it will quickly fill with pee. So, fellow triathletes, if you try this time saving technique keep your feet level with a bend in your leg so it will run off and onto the ground. Coincidentally my shoes now live outside the house permanently. (Kim says:  If anyone ever needed proof that I support Colin wholeheartedly with his tris, the fact that I washed his butt pad soaked pee pee bike shorts without tongs is it.)

In transition I again did a full outfit change. This went really quickly though, considering I even had to put on my fancy time consuming socks with a separate place for each toe. I threw on my Hoka One One runners and headed out of the tent. I felt pretty good considering how hard I hit the bike course and my legs quickly came around after the first mile or so. This run was a completely different experience than any other I've had. Typically I just try and survive the run and do a lot of walking. If I see some other poor sap walking along I strike up a conversation and try to chat away the miles. This race I was up with the serious competitors and they're not down for a chit chat, they're racing. This was great for me because there was no temptation to walk. Somehow I managed to run from aid station to aid station (1 mile apart) and only had to take extra walking breaks a couple of times.

I think the funniest thought I had was 3 hours into the marathon. I had done the math and realized that I could actually finish under 12 hours. "I just have to keep this pace for 2 more hours." That was it, just run this same speed for 2 more hours, and it didn't even phase me. Even 6 months ago thinking ahead by 2 hours into a run would have been ridiculous. There was very little that I could have done better during this run. I kept the same pace throughout, my nutrition was such that I never got nauseous or sloshy, and I learned one very important lesson. I learned how to be comfortable being uncomfortable. By that I mean that I was able to evaluate how my legs and lungs were feeling and even though they were burning, it was an amount that I could handle for a seemingly indefinite period of time.

Another lesson I learned will be very important for any future races in warmer climates. In swimming lessons we were taught that heat leaves our body from our head, armpits and crotch and so that we need to cover those areas if we're stuck in water. Using this I decided that to cool down on a run those are the areas I need to focus on. At the aid stations they hand out cups of water and I thought it would be a great idea to pour this ice into my crotch to keep cool. It worked pretty well, until a few aid stations in when I realized that I'd frozen myself solid. It didn't really hurt at this point it was just an odd feeling. No, the REAL pain comes when you begin to thaw out again. Anyone who shoveled snow as a kid remembers that feeling when you skin would thaw out after being outside for too long. That burning under your chin or your the tips of your fingers. This was EXACTLY like that, only on my jimmy junk! Yikes man! Lesson learned. The worst part is that when I got home and told my wife Kim about this story she looked at me and shook her head and said, "You said the exact same thing after Ironman Los Cabos you idiot!" Doh! Ok, lesson learned this time for sure!

Post race was just so awesome. I was so happy about my time that I didn't notice just how bad my legs were feeling. I grabbed a quick piece of pizza and a chocolate milk and found my mom to head back to the hotel. I actually didn't know what to do with myself because I usually finish so late in the evening that I go straight to bed but it was only about 8pm so there was plenty of evening left. I ate the amazing PF Chang's that mom had picked up for me and packed up my bike. After a bottle of champagne I crawled into bed and waited for my 2am hunger attack. This came right on time and I attacked the club sandwich I had waiting on the night stand.

I'm still truly stunned at how well this race went. In my wildest dreams I couldn't have crafted a situation in my mind that had me finishing under 13:15 so to go sub 12 was ridiculous. I have to thank my wife Kim for allowing me to spend stupid amounts of money on my hobby of triathlon and my mom for being my faithful sherpa and helping me get my stuff around the race. However, the greatest thanks for this result has to go to my coach Jeremy Potter who has put enough faith in me to give me workouts that were just unbelievably tough. He saw potential in me that I didn't see in myself and he pushed me beyond my limits. The biggest downside to a race day like this is the new bar that I've set for myself. I have no idea how I can replicate a day like this again but I thought that about this go 'round.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

What do teachers do?

I'm going to stray outside of the triathlon world for a minute. The government of Alberta has really given little or no thought to education recently. We live in the richest province in the country and class sizes are growing and wages have been frozen. It is for this reason I'm seriously considering leaving the profession and pursuing a career as a firefighter. I wanted to explore what it is that I even do for society that the government would disregard my profession. We've all had teachers so there is a cursory understanding of the job. You plan lessons, you do marking, you take attendance; all the really exciting stuff. But it's the things you don't see that make a teacher's legacy. Being a teacher is not glamorous, it is not heroic and at the end of the day you don't have anything to show for your labour. I think that's probably the worst part of my job. The lack of evidence.

One of the summer jobs I held going through university was working on a concrete crew putting in sidewalks and bus pads. In a way I got more out of that job than I do out of teaching. I still drive past certain locations in town and proudly boast that I put that sidewalk there and it's still standing. Something I did is tangible and can be used. I don't have that in teaching. Not very often anyway.  I've yet to walk down a hallway at a school and overhear a student explaining to a classmate that "the way Mr. Hackett explained the Industrial Revolution was life changing." At best I'd get to hear, "at least that class wasn't too terrible."

I think some of the greatest things that teachers do go unheralded because the people who need the help the most have no one to tell. If you're one of the thousands, or probably even millions, of parents that ask your child what they learned at school on a given day you're already ahead of the game. The fact that you cared enough to ask puts your son or daughter in a position of power. There is a force at home echoing the desire of the teacher to "get to class and get your work done." I can't express how deflating it is as a teacher to make a phone call home to inform a parent that their son or daughter needs to make some changes to either their behaviour or their work ethic and to get the impression that it is just not a priority in that household. I often liken educating a student to creating a diamond out of coal, it requires pressure from all sides to transform; if the pressure is only coming from the teacher with no parent good. Vice versa, if the parents are really pushing their child and they're not getting the support they need in the good. It must be a concerted effort from all sides for that child to succeed.

The students, I believe, that get the most from a teacher are the ones that have nowhere else to go. I've been told that I'm a popular teacher and that kids like me. That's really cool and makes my job a lot easier. However, I estimate that in my 10 years of teaching somewhere between 2500 and 3000 students have passed through my class and I suspect I've only had a dramatic impact on less than 100. That is because in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada we're very lucky compared to the average population of the world. We are a rich, safe, healthy nation with well below average concerns. This means that most of our students come to school clothed, fed and rested. For the average student in Edmonton they can walk into any classroom and be taught by some of the best educated teachers in the world and it wouldn't matter who it was. This allows us to give a little extra time to those that really need it. The ones that maybe slept on the street the night before, or the ones that had their parents spend the last of their money on drugs so there's no food in the house. This is where teachers earn their money.

There are a few great days for teachers; having a student come back, look you in the eye, and sincerely tell you that they were on the wrong track but something you did hooked them and actually changed their life. I've had this happen three times and it is an amazing feeling. It can be something as innocuous as having welcomed them every morning, or it could be a more meaningful gesture like finding them clothes or food, but whatever it was, the actions you took made such a profound difference to this student that it changed the direction of their life. This is not humbling, quite the opposite in fact. It makes you feel like a friggin' super hero!

In addition to those visits I've had a few students that have picked me to share some of their darkest secrets. This can be a very tough situation for both of us. It might be the death of a parent, a pregnancy scare or something that needs to be dealt with criminally. Regardless, these are the things that you aren't taught how to deal with in university but are the most important moments of your career. It is these few opportunities where your instincts and decisions can have a lifetime impact for a very vulnerable person. I can only hope that my tutelage and mentoring have led these young people in a positive direction. Whether it was just being a sounding board for their anxiety about becoming a parent or helping them navigate the government system to get assistance to leave a bad home situation, the role I played was a crucial one in their life.

It is not always as simple as dealing with a student's personal problem. Without a doubt the saddest and most meaningful day of my career was the day I was asked to eulogize a student. Craig played on my football team the year prior and apparently I had made such an impact that his mother felt I would do his memory justice. I was honoured to be looked at in this light, that something I had done put me in high enough standing that I was asked to speak at his funeral. It was surprisingly easy to write Craig's eulogy; in retrospect I think it was because I had taken the time to get to know him so the memories I spoke about were my own and were meaningful. This is one of the moments when you understand your impact on your students.

I find it funny that, essentially, I am paid by the government to teach a group of students a certain set of curriculum and do all the associated planning and marking. And I carry out my charge dutifully and to the best of my ability. However, the greatest impact I have in this world almost never happens during a time that I'm being paid. It is almost exclusively outside of the classroom. Whether it's a lonely student that finds me outside of class time, during my volunteer coaching, or on a trip to Europe to see Canada's World War I and II battlefields, that is when I have my greatest impact.

If you're in a position where you start to question, "why do we pay these teachers so much, they just teach our kids some basic things and then go home at 3:30. Plus they get the summers off" pat yourself on the back because you're probably a really good parent. I'm being serious, if the only role a teacher plays in your child's life is that of educator you're doing most of the heavy lifting and you should be commended. However, you need to know that there are going to be a number of students in your son or daughter's class that do not have the privileged upbringing that your child has. There will be teachers that are making secret deals with the cafeteria to feed them, or bringing clothing from their home so that they have a warm jacket to wear when it starts to snow. You won't know about it because these teachers will just do these things because it's right and it's what needs to be done so that child can learn but it is happening.  

Friday, 11 October 2013

Fellas, a little decorum in the locker room. PLEASE!!!

For any of my female readers, be warned that you are going to get an inside look at a male locker room. You can't unread this!

For the past 6 weeks I have been a member at a nice gym and have the luxury of accessing the Plus locker room. This is really a nice place work out. We have a steam room, leather chairs to watch the big flat screen TV,  free shaving supplies and all the towels you could ever need. However, some of the fellas in this swanky establishment have decided that they've been contained too long and that from now on they will let their freak flag (and other appendages) fly.

The steam room is in the locker room. The sign on the door states that using a towel is required. PHEW, I thought, I don't need to see a bunch of hot sweaty dudes with their business just flopping around. WRONG! The towels are apparently for sitting on in the steam room. Once you've sat down it's no big deal, I guess, to just let it all hang out. I've seen plenty of man meat having been on sports teams for years and years but in that context it was usually just in the showers and when guys were changing. But this is an attack! It would take a simple flick of the wrist to cover your junk with a piece of cotton and really, is it so critical that your dork get its daily dose of steam?

There is one violator in particular that makes me especially uncomfortable. In all my interactions with this guy he's been very cordial but when the towel hits the floor it's a different story. This gentleman is heavily tattooed and AGGRESSIVELY pierced. Like, really aggressively. He uses the steam room as his yoga studio. His very hot, steamy, NAKED, yoga studio. Usually it's just odd poses over in his seated position but occasionally he finds the need for some full on stand up yoga and downward dog produces unsightly backsack. C'mon man! And the flashing jewelry on your shlong causes a natural instinct to see where that light was coming from. You know where it's coming from? The very tip of the problem! I am intrigued. How do you pee straight with that? Are you condemned to a lifetime of seated peeing? That's the greatest part of mandom, the standing pee is a birthright and one of the proudest moments of my life was when my son graduated to this from the emasculating Winnie the Pooh seated potty. I cannot foresee a situation where driving a piece of steel through your wang is an upgrade. If you claim that it makes sex better, YOU WERE DOING IT WRONG BEFORE!

This need to let it breathe has apparently "extended" (see what I did there) into the TV area. A number of these aged fellas do the courtesy of laying a towel down on the furniture but once again feel the need to be open with everyone about what they're packing. Just sitting there, watching TV, naked. I've heard men do most of their thinking with their downstairs member, maybe as you age you do most of your viewing with it too? I dunno. I'm really not a prude, I just don't see the need for unnecessary nudity (by dudes). I'm not asking you to wear a 3-piece suit in the locker room, just a quick towel wrap.   

We're all in this together fellas. I know I'm no treat to see sans clothing but I'm almost always covered and I do my clothing changes faster than a Vegas magician just to avoid any unwanted exposure. If you just commit to a little coverage and absolutely ZERO naked conversations we can all be friends and get on with our day.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Check In October 2013

For those that have been following my journey I really appreciate the support I've gotten from so many of you. I thought I'd just do a quick update into how my training has been going so far.

I'm just over a month from Ironman Arizona and I'm absolutely exhausted. My coach, Jeremy, has me doing some pretty intense workouts. Most of my weekday workouts feature intense periods of sprinting and these are hammering my legs. Additionally, I've been lifting weights and doing abs every weekday so I'm putting in about 2-3 hours of training every day. Much like the illustrious Ron Burgundy I don't have much time so I have to sculpt my guns at the office.

On top of this I referee hockey and this year I was promoted to refereeing Jr B hockey (players 18-22 years old). This requires a great deal of skating as well as traveling to small towns around the area so my time is very full. I still find the travel a little stressful after last year's moose hunt. My friend Tyler and I were on our way to officiate a senior men's hockey game a little over an hour from our hometown and about 15 minutes from our destination we struck a moose that was just standing in the road.

This stretch of road was so dark that we had no chance to avoid this big dumb animal. I said, "MOOSE!" and we hit it almost instantly. Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic as we spun into the opposite ditch.

Shockingly Tyler and I were unhurt except for a scratch on Tyler's hand and his capped front teeth popped off a couple of days later. Most likely from the airbag. However, there was glass EVERYWHERE. In my teeth, hair, ears, the cuffs of my pants. The worst part was the moose hair. It came through the windshield and smelled like hell. 

 I called 911 and then after explaining what happened the dispatcher  asked where we were. I told her I thought we were about 20km from Athabasca on Hwy 2. She replied, "our GPS shows you about 200 m past Range Road (blah blah blah)." I said, "then that's where we are!" Was she testing me? What the hell? 

It was so dark that after the police arrived and put out pylons to divert traffic the first semi trailer that came by ran over all of the cones and the RCMP called for another car to come with flashing cones. During this time the local official that was waiting for us had been calling to get updates on our situation and finally asked "what do you want me to do about the game?" I finally had enough and I said "I don't give a F&$@, we almost died."

Finally the RCMP got us loaded into the police car, with our hockey bags. Apparently someone in town had run over a light post so the cop had a traffic light in the trunk so there was no room for equipment. If you've ever been in the back of a police car you'll know it is not spacious. We were crammed in there pretty good. This experience has stayed with me and since then I hold the wheel a little tighter and drive a little slower.

I started a new job in September working at Centre High. This is the school for all students in Edmonton to go to after their 3 regular years of high school. My position is split between the Emergency Response Career Pathways (ERCP) program and Phys Ed. In PE my role is to assist with anything they need and if they're all working, I can work out. This has been awesome. I lead by example and get many of my workouts completed during the work day. The ERCP program is AWESOME. Block 1 we do physical training with them every day and it's intense. These students are all interested in careers as police officers, fire fighters or paramedics and we hold them to a high standard. We started with 83 and after pushing them hard for a month are down to a very committed 56. Block 2 the students are instructed by working professionals in the various fields and if they complete levels 1 and 2 can graduate the course with their gun license, H2S gas, SCBA cert, first aid, and EMR certification. They also get to participate in a "live burn" with the Edmonton Fire Department where they get fully kitted up and sit inside a simulated garage fire that reaches well over 1700 F. What an unreal job I have.

I joke with my wife that I'm basically the world's crappiest professional triathlete. Working out 3 hours a day, drinking smoothies and creating more laundry than my wife can hope to keep up with. When I work out I sweat. I sweat a lot. I have to take a shower towel with me to the treadmill to try and mop myself up as I go. This means I need more wardrobe changes than Liberace and packing my gym bag in the morning looks more like I'm preparing for a week in Vegas than a day of training. 

Despite my exhaustion I'm putting up the best times and lowest body weights I've ever experienced. I'm holding steady at just under 255lbs and this includes some added muscle from lifting. If I can maintain or lower the weight I will be 20 lbs lighter than Ironman Coeur d'Alene last June and 30 lbs lighter than my first Ironman. Thursday I again set my best time for a 10Km run finishing in 54:20. I was very proud and despite being completely obliterated I walked toward the change room basically strutting and as I passed a particularly cute blonde I saw her shoot me a funny look. I looked down to see what she was looking at and saw a trail of blood from my right nipple down to almost my waist. I was riding such a high I didn't feel it... until I got in the shower and the water hit me. KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS THAT HURT! (Note to self: read own blog about run training) 

It's funny, I'm actually worried that I'm having so much success in my training. The skinnier and faster I get the more my focus is shifting from "just finish" to goals that are more time oriented. I've always made fun of the athletes that cross the finish line and then pout about their time. I was always sick about seeing someone finish an Ironman and not be proud. That's not what it's about for me and I hope beyond hope that I don't become "that guy."

Saturday, 28 September 2013

What's your Kona?

The positive things that Ironman has done for me in my life are incredible and not what I expected when, in 2009, I signed up for my first race. Had I known how hard that first race would be I'm not sure that I would have gone through with it but, as they say, "ignorance is bliss." The number one thing that I've gained is my health. The ability to run around and wrestle with my kids is the greatest thing in my life.

I am on a mission to compete at the Ironman world championships in Kona, Hawaii. For the majority of people this is simply out of reach, including me. However, because World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), the owners of Ironman, understand that some athletes are unbelievably committed to the sport they introduced a new program last year to reward the people that put it out there day to day. The Legacy Lottery is a one-time opportunity for 100 people per year to race in the most important triathlon in the world. The criteria are:

1) You can NEVER have started the world championship race
2) Must have finished 12 Ironman brand full-distance races
3) Completed a full-distance Ironman brand race in each of the previous two years

Kona has become the ultimate goal for me. It defines almost every aspect of my life from my training to my diet and my personal relationships. Currently I'm 1/3 of the way to my goal having completed 4 Ironman races to date and have registered for 3 more. Obviously triathlon is not the be all and end all for everyone. But I believe that you need to have some big goal in your life to be truly fulfilled. Maybe it's a travel destination, a career or some other physical challenge, but you need to have something to strive for. That's your Kona.

Set your goals and be honest with yourself. I'm a high school teacher and the first day of class I ask the kids what they want to do. If they have no idea where they want to go, then they have no idea what track to get on. I liken it to getting on a random bus hoping it takes you to school. You need to plan out your route to get to your end destination. This is the same with any goal in your life, big or small. Reverse engineer it, where do you need to be and what are the intermediate steps.

Write them down! There's something about writing goals down that makes them a little more real and important. Research what it's going to take to get to there. Do you need more schooling? A part time job to pay for it? What's it going to take? If it's something that you genuinely want or even need out of life you will just make it work. I watched in awe as my sister upgraded her high school courses and then became a registered nurse while giving birth to and raising two children. There is no way that I could have done this, but only because I didn't want to. For Erin, it was so important that she wouldn't be denied.

Along the way you will almost certainly be disheartened, distracted and face setbacks. It's just a test of how badly you really want it. If a little bump in the road is enough to make you give up, you don't really want it.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Training Through Tragedy

In the last five months I've faced a couple of devastating blows. As I've mentioned in previous posts I lost my father very suddenly to a heart attack while he was on vacation in Mexico last April. This time, on Friday the 13th of September I received a phone call at work that rocked my world. My wife called me to tell me that at her regular check-up the doctor could not locate the heartbeat of our unborn child. By the time I arrived she had already had an ultrasound to confirm what the doctor suspected and that we would not be having our fourth child this coming March.

Obviously we were extremely upset. Kim was just over four months pregnant and we had gotten past the three month window that you're supposed to be worried about and had never had any real problems with previous pregnancies. However, after our initial shock and pain we quickly became very philosophical. The easiest thing to come to terms with was that there was certainly something very wrong with the baby and had it been born it likely would have lead an extremely difficult life or maybe not even survived birth.

The next realization that we came to was actually more of a spiritual one. It gave us pause to look at what we do have. I summed it up best with a text to my sister after she sent her condolences and asked how we were doing. I replied, "We're going to sit in our beautiful home and wallow with our 3 healthy children." This may have actually been a type of awakening for us (maybe just me, Kim's always awesome). It really gives you an opportunity to take an inventory of your life and see how good you have it. I have job security in a career that I chose to pursue and love, I have a wonderful wife who takes care of our beautiful children and those children give me unparalleled joy. Not too shabby.  We will have a fourth child, this was just a bump in the road.

When people ask how I'm doing lately I have a very simple reply. It's not fair to the rest of my family to get depressed and be an ineffective parent. My late father would often tell me, "there is no point getting upset over that which you have no control." Typically this was in response to me destroying some type of memorabilia after the Oilers (my local hockey team) lost a particularly important game. But as with most of the lessons my father passed along to me, they sat in the back of my mind waiting for the perfect moment to reveal their importance.

After my dad passed I felt a certain amount of guilt continuing my training for Ironman. At the time I was so completely shattered that I wanted the entire world to stop and realize that an amazing human being would no longer be there. It was extremely self-centered but that was the depth of my pain. In the days and weeks that passed it occurred to me that I actually owed it to not only my living family but also my dad's memory that I continue doing what I had set my mind to. Teaching, parenting, being a fair to midland husband and working towards my goal of twelve Ironman races. Otherwise his lessons, and all of the things I'd worked for would have been in vain.

Once I got over my training guilt I began to realize how therapeutic it was. I didn't just want to train, I needed to train. When I'm swimming or biking or running I go to a different place in my mind. The rhythm I get into allows my brain to become calm and I do some of my best thinking while I'm exercising. Some days the only way I can get my mind off of what is troubling me is to push myself so hard physically that all I can think about is breathing and taking just one more step. Once I've pushed out the negative thoughts it becomes much easier to keep them there. It's then that I'm the best I can be. When I get home from a session I'm at peace, I don't have a workout hanging over me and I can pour myself completely into my family. I truly believe that training for Ironman makes me not only a better athlete but a better husband and father too. I know this to be the case because when I'm having some of my rough days Kim will look at me and say, "why don't you go workout?" Kim and I have grown up together, and sometimes she likes to say that she knows me better than I know myself.

Without tragedy there is no joy; without these moments when we are completely shattered and broken we can never appreciate the pure joy of a newborn child, summiting a mountain or crossing the finish line at Ironman. I don't forget about the losses, but I choose which memories pop into my consciousness more often than not. The positivity, the love and the support, these are the things that keep me going and bolster me when I falter and I'll forever be grateful. Thanks Dad.

I often wonder if I'm getting too preachy in my blogs and I really hope that isn't the case.  I think my life is more similar to the average person than most of the people featured in magazines. I work full-time, have a wife and kids, referee hockey in my spare time for some extra cash and train for triathlon. If my experiences can provide any help or ideas for anyone else I would be overjoyed. In the nearly 3 months that my blog has been out I've had over 5500 views and would love to start more of a dialogue with my readers. If you have any suggestions for future blogs or any questions for me please leave me a comment and I'll get to them as soon as possible.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Ironman Supporters' Guide - Guest Blog by my wife!


There's a reason I don't blog.  I can't BS nearly as well as my husband.  If you've ever met me, you know I tend to get straight to the point.  Embellishing this thing with funny stuff is going to be tough for me and will probably involve making fun of Colin and revealing some of his deepest, darkest secrets.  That's where I find most of my comedic material. 

What do I think of triathlons?  Think of me as the esteemed Kenny Powers in the scene below:

I will never do a triathlon of any distance because I just don't want to.  I know I could finish a sprint - my time would be horrifically horrible because I'm one of the worst swimmers on the planet, but one thing you do as a triathlete's spouse or significant other is spend a lot of time watching other people compete.  And I have spent A LOT of time watching other people compete.  I've seen people start and finish the sprint swim floating on their backs, not using their arms at all, kicking with their legs.  I may not be a good swimmer, but I'm a damn fine floater.  However, I digress....

As mentioned, I spend a lot of time waiting.  Waiting for Colin to finish training so we can take the rugrats out or we can spend some time together at night watching our favorite crappy tv shows.  Waiting for Colin to finish talking to his friends in the vortex that is Element in Edmonton.  (They have nice stuff in there, so I sit in the car with the kids.  I don't know how bike shop insurance works, but I'm pretty sure we'd have to pay the deductible when they destroyed every bit of carbon fiber in there.)  Waiting for Colin to come up with the diet fad of the week so I know what to make for his meals. (Thank heavens for Weight Watchers - I get to cook normal food now.  Although EVERYONE wants something different, I'm not stuck making lentils and Sunny Boy and steel cut oats and other random goopy foods on a regular basis anymore.)

Waiting and waiting and waiting.

And then there's waiting for Ironman....

In the months before Ironman the conversations sound like this:
C: Do you think I'm training hard enough?
K: You haven't stopped complaining about how sore you are, so probably.
C: Are you sure?  I don't know if I feel ready.
K: You did one two months ago.  You train 6x a week.  I'm sure you're ready.  You're always ready.
C: Maybe I am.  Actually, maybe I need some new bike shorts or bike shoes or running shoes or shoe laces or socks or a new triathlon backpack.  YES!  That's it!!!!  A new tri bag!  My last one got dirty.  I need a new one!!!!

(That last part might seem like I'm taking creative liberties, but I'm pretty sure we've had that conversation.  And reading this is going to remind Colin that one of the shoulder straps on his backpack is broken so he has to start looking for a new one, even though we tied up the old one and it works just fine.)

And then there's the day of Ironman.  I don't know if there's a more boring spectator sport in the whole wide world.  You know what time the swim starts, but you have NO clue where your swimmer is - there's a sea of people jumping in to a large body of water and all you can see are swim caps.  So you jingle your cow bell and clap the hand clapper thingy and then turn around and go back to the hotel room because no one can hear you anyway.

Where's Waldo?

An hour later you're standing somewhere on the bike course in a sea of cheering people holding signs.  You can see your athlete approaching, head down, ready for a day of exercise.... And you yell their name, and then you see their butt disappear in to the distance.  And then after the race you ask "Did you hear me?  Did you see me?  I was holding a giant sign and cheering your name and I had that baby painted fluorescent orange!"  And they have no clue what you're talking about.  And then you learn that you just have to TELL them that you were there and you can actually go for ice cream instead.    Finally, there's the run.  If you're REALLY lucky it will be an out and back or a couple loops and you can actually make eye contact with your athlete so you KNOW they saw you.  Colin always stops to say hi and give us a big wet smelly hug.  As gross as it is, it's always really nice. 

See? Sweaty and gross but not too busy for a family photo. Only 5 more hours to go.

And then there's the finish line - it is designed for the athletes, not spectators.  Perhaps a person who isn't pushing a double stroller filled with 3 kids (not a typo) can get somewhere near it, but I'm pretty sure you have to get there early.  The closest I've ever been to seeing Colin finish was when I watched the live feed online from the Coeur D'Alene finish line.   That was in fact my favorite finish because I got to see how happy he was the second he was done.  Once your athlete crosses the finish line you're stuck waiting for them to have a snack, see the paramedics, pick up their bike, talk to people, do the hokey pokey.... And you can't see them doing any of this stuff, so you just wait.  (While you're waiting, listen to all the stories you hear about the course.  You can use these later.  Stay tuned.)  I think Colin hurries through this part quite a bit for us though because he's usually out in about 20 minutes and skips the massage station.  I know he misses us when we don't go to Ironman with him, but I think it really enables him to better enjoy the whole experience (HAHAHAHAHAHA).

One tip I have for spectators at the finish line is to offer to help any athlete you see who is finished.  These somewhat insane individuals have just spent a day exercising.  They're leaving the race with a bike and a bike pump and a wet suit and running shoes and bike shoes and tri suits and t-shirts and sweat pants and hoodies and maybe a snack.  And a lot of them are on their own.  Because you spend SO much time waiting, you can do a solid and walk someone to their car.  Give 'em a hand!  I did that the last time Ironman Canada was in Penticton - the kids and I walked a woman to her car and helped carry a whole bunch of her crap.  It didn't really take any time out of my day since I was just WAITING anyway, but it got her to her bed that much more quickly and she was so happy. 

Finally there's the stinky, sweaty, tired, starving athlete that you have to get back to a hotel room.  DO NOT let them stop moving.  Once they stop you're done for.  You might as well just tie two skateboards together and haul them back that way if you're going to let an Ironman stop moving before they get to a shower. I've found that Colin likes to push his own bike back.  I don't know if it's related to the fact that he washes his bike more often than the car or the fact that it's good to lean on, but either way don't try to come between a triathlete and their bike.  If you can tie a stick to the front and hang some Chinese food off of it like a version of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon you can hopefully motivate your athlete to move at more than a snail's pace.  Once you're in the room, don't be surprised if you hear a lot of groaning and maybe a "COME LOOK AT THE COLOUR OF MY PEE!" (actual conversation).  Once the pleasantries are out of the way, leave them to their own devices.  You'll probably have some pretty spectacular blisters to pop, so make sure you have a needle and some bandaids ready.

Your average athlete (by Ironman finish time standards, not average compared to the general population) is going to be a bit sore and tired the next day.  Do whatever you can to keep them off their feet.  And be prepared to hear a lot of complaining.  About rub marks, about sore feet, about their bike chain, about some asshole on another bike who did something douchy, about what they should have done but didn't do.... And then there's the fun stories about the funny spectators along the course.  I like those stories.  If you're one of those people with the funny signs or music or are a hot babe in a bikini and you're able to take Colin's mind off the exercise the day of the race, thanks! 

If you're smart, the morning after Ironman (and a day spent alone with the kids) you can get a couple hours to yourself by leaving the kids with your athlete and visiting Hell, aka the finisher gear tent.  Ironman competitors aren't just happy buying things that say "Ironman/location/year."  They MUST own something that says "Ironman/location/year/FINISHER."  Apparently the medal, the t-shirt, and the hat they get at the finish line don't count.  A trip to the finisher gear tent is difficult to describe. First you have to stand in line outside the tent for at least an hour.  You feel really out of place because you're not wearing compression socks or eating a Powerbar. There is a quick solution to this however.   Wear compression socks and carry a Powerbar around.  Remember I told you to listen to the stories at the finish line?  It's your turn to use them.  See how many people you can fool in to thinking you did Ironman.  It's a great way to kill time while you're waiting (yet again.)  And it's kinda funny.  If anyone notices your lack of odd sunburn spots where the sunscreen sweated off and calls you on it, tell them the truth.  If not, giggle away to yourself.  By now you know the jargon so play on playa!

Getting in to the gear tent is like shopping on Boxing Day or Black Friday at the mall but worse.  You're stuck in a tent with poor ventilation, a VERY limited selection of clothing (I have a sneaking suspicion the first people in to the tent have someone stay in line overnight like some people do for concert tickets), and lines.  LOOOOONG lines of people.  I'm glad Colin wears an XL because that's about all that's left by the time I've made it in to the tent.  If you're a Medium, good luck!  There are usually coffee cups, magnets, and Ironman stickers by the tills for you.  

When you eventually make it back to the car you can listen to awesome stories about the tow truck driver had to come and give the car a boost because daddy didn't think to start the engine at any point during the three hours he was listening to and charging his Ipod.

Anyway, that's about it.  You are now fully prepared to support an Ironman athlete.  If you're an impatient person it's probably time to encourage your triathlete to find a new sport.  Might I suggest jai alai or Aussie rules football?

Saturday, 7 September 2013

You can't outrun a bad diet

It is easy to live in denial when you're trying to lose weight. You just tell people, "I'm trying to lose weight" but if your actions don't match your words then you're just lying to yourself. As it happens I can be a very convincing liar.

Training for any kind of race will burn a ton of calories, but there's still a limit. After my fourth Ironman at Coeur d'Alene I realized that I needed to look more closely at my diet. My weight had plateaued at 275 lbs and holding. I wasn't gaining weight but I was certainly not losing any. One of my big wakeup calls was when Kyle Kowalski, a guy I referee hockey with, just looked at me after a game and said bluntly, "how can you workout that much and still be fat?" At first I was taken back by this, but he had a point. I started to really look at what I was doing wrong. Obviously it wasn't a lack of exercise. The only answer had to be that I was eating too much.

After I lost all of my easy weight the first time I had hit a plateau at 285 lbs. I decided to try Weight Watcher's online. What I really liked about WW  online was that I didn't have to go to meetings. I could take responsibility for my own weight loss and food tracking. I think this worked for me because I had already established my discipline in my training regimen and didn't need the pressure of others to keep me on track. If you don't think you're going to have the discipline to stay on track on your own I would definitely recommend attending a WW meeting at your local franchise. Just like with a workout class, group weight loss can provide the peer pressure and support that some people need to push them over the top.

I watched my mom work on a few different weight loss programs and although the programs that make you buy their food will work, they don't teach you anything. You buy a meal in a container and that's what you eat. Weight Watchers forces you to eat regular food but calculate what appropriate portions would be and in the process you start to get an innate sense of proper eating.

I was surprised by a few foods and just how many points were in them and this was where I was making my biggest mistakes. As a reference, I get 54 points and my mom get 33 points per day. As a snack I would often grab a bowl of cereal. I was shocked to find that that was worth 10 points. 1/3 of my mom's daily food intake in one bowl of cereal and 20% of mine. No problem, I just started finding better options for a snack that would fill me up for less points.

Previously I visited a dietician and she looked at my training and gave me a plan where I would plan out a meal with all the food groups and eat that same meal all week. BOOOOOOOORING!!! I was not a fan of this. I love food, many kinds of food, and to discriminate would be unfair. Eventually this broke down because I got bored and angry and would start to eat other foods than what was made for me. 

I had also tried the Four Hour Body, a diet plan where you could eat all you wanted of a few different types of food and once a week binge on whatever you wanted. This was fine, at the start, but I didn't get big by denying myself certain foods. You can probably last a couple of weeks, maybe even a couple of months, but eventually you're going to want to get a bowl of ice cream or a pizza or whatever your particular favorite is and not want to wait until your cheat day. At this point, the diet no longer works.

What needs to be noted here is that my wife, throughout all of this, has just made whatever food I've asked of her. Lentils and spinach for breakfast? Done. Beans and chicken every meal for a month? Check. She didn't want to eat this so she would make everyone else something different. Never once did she make me feel bad or hint that it was a hassle and I really appreciate this. It is this kind of support that makes my ventures possible.

Weight Watchers doesn't do this to you. On WW you can eat whatever you like. It just becomes obvious to you over time that certain foods will serve you better than others and you slowly weed out the bad foods. But on those days where you just need a pizza you account for the points and satisfy your craving. Another thing I've learned about food cravings is to just give in to them in moderation. You're going to eventually so you might as well do it "responsibly." Calculate the points that it will cost you and work it into your daily allotment.

Some of you may be able to be happy on the diets where you are denied certain foods, but I just can't give up certain foods forever and recognizing that in myself was a huge step in the right direction. Since Ironman Coeur d'Alene on June 24, 2013 I've dropped 17 lbs from 275 lbs to 258 lbs. I had a DEXA scan done where they use X-rays to measure your body's make up and if I had zero body fat I would weigh 216 lbs. This means that I'm just under 17% body fat and feeling great. My overall goal is to get to 250 lbs and I think this would be a nice place to stay.

Whatever your activity level, whatever your goal, it is absolutely critical that your food intake be in control.  Find a way to eat that works with your tastes, your lifestyle and your weight goals. Finally, actually set a goal. If you don't know where you're going you have no idea how you'll get there.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

The right equipment can make a huge difference!

I've been feeling really good lately and two weekends ago I set my personal best time for a 10km run at 57:42. Again, I know that these times are not spectacular but in a relative sense to what I was able to accomplish before it's really quite good.

This past Sunday I competed in the Edmonton half marathon. It was a last minute decision, I needed to run for about 2 hours according to my training schedule and I usually have a tough time trying to figure out where to go and how to work in water breaks, etc. Well, this race lined up perfectly and so I grabbed my credit card and signed up.

I didn't taper at all for this race. The only thing I did differently was that I was supposed to cycle on Saturday but decided to sit that workout out and just stretch instead. Other than that it was full steam ahead. When I got up on Sunday I was feeling great, well rested and hydrated. I got down to the race site WAY too early again. Ugh, what the hell is wrong with me? I stood around in the chill morning air and ran into a few people I knew and had some nice chats which was a great way to pass the time.

The time came to line up and so we corralled into the start area and made our way out. Like most runs I started out feeling a little sluggish but I'm used to that so I kept at it and after a couple of kilometers my legs loosened up and I was off. When I hit the 5km sign in 31:11 I knew I was holding a pretty good pace. Not too fast but not slow. Just a nice manageable trot. It was around this point I started looking at my watch all too often. I fall into this trap at every race where I start calculating my times and when I should finish and I forget to "just run." In the early going it appeared it helped as I picked up my pace and my second 5km were completed in 30:45. This was when I made the decision that I would not walk today no matter what.

I'm still not sure if this was the right decision to make or not because I've read that walking breaks actually can speed you up because you rest just enough to keep plugging along. Despite this I made it a personal mission to keep running non stop. The next 5km made me regret this decision. I got it done in 33:02 but was starting to suffer a little.

However, my mental conditioning was strong enough that I was able to ignore my aching legs and just keep them turning over. My mantra became, "the more you run, the sooner you're done." Now, easier said than done, but it worked and my last 5km was slightly faster at 31:52. 1km to go and feeling really good and I did the last 1.1km in 6:59. Total time was 2:13:39 and a personal best by over 15 minutes. For those that don't know, that's a huge improvement to make in a race of this distance.

Now, I know it would be easy to take all of the credit but there is one thing that I've changed recently that seems to have made the most incredible difference for me. My Hoka OneOne runners are a godsend. These are a cushioned running shoe that take the pounding of the road out of your run. I think one of the biggest mistakes I've made is underestimating just how big I am. Typically, the people that the triathlon magazines are aimed at are of a slight build and as such can focus on a minimalist shoe that will give them the best return on the run stride. However, at 260 pounds the impact that my joints take while running for over 2 hours is insane. By the end of the run it's not my lungs that are begging me to stop, it's my feet, knees and hips.

My Hoka OneOnes took this pounding out of the equation and as such in consecutive weeks I did my fastest 10km and half marathon runs. Now, keep in mind that Hokas are a RUNNING shoe. Because of their thick sole I would not recommend them for sports or other activities where a great deal of side to side agility is required because they are not built for this. BUT, if you want to run on a cloud with angels singing and carrying you to the finish line they are amazing.

Thank you Hoka!!!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Every race has an "I can't" moment.

It doesn't seem to matter what distance or type of race I do, the most important skill I've developed has nothing to do with swimming, biking or running. It's the mental fortitude I've developed to push out negative thoughts and just keep going.

These thoughts usually take on a whiny, almost childish tone in my head and it's things like, "this is hard" or "my feet hurt." Finding the motivation to carry on is absolutely critical if you want to have any success.

I realized I had this kind of grit a while ago. In October of 2008 my wife and I signed up for the Devon Half Marathon Turkey Trot (Canadian Thanksgiving is in October). I had no business in this race. I was over 300 lbs and had never run more than about 10km at a time. On top of this, my feet had been giving me some trouble so I did what anyone would do. I got orthotics... and I wore them for the very first time during this half marathon. Seriously. I took a hard piece of foam designed to basically reshape your foot and wore it for the first time while trying to run 21.1km. I realized at about the 5km mark that this was not going to be a pleasant day. My feet were KILLING me.

At about the 10km mark I knew I wasn't going to be able to carry on like this so I took off my shoes, ripped off my race number and I quit. As I started to walk back to the start area barefoot I realized that I was going to have to face everyone and tell them I quit because it was too hard. This did not sit well with me. I don't quit. So I put my shoes on, without orthotics, or insoles of any kind and I started to jog a bit, walk a bit. It became evident soon after that that I was in dead last place. Every time I approached an aid station I could hear, "here he comes" and as I passed they would take everything down and start packing up. Soon the sweep bike and the paramedic golf cart were following me in.

At this point I really started to get embarrassed. It wasn't bad enough that my feet were killing me, well, to be honest my everything hurt. Now I had paramedics circling like vultures waiting for me to collapse so they could cart my carcass off to the finish area. I had a standing offer from them to get on the back of the golf cart and get a ride back and this was SO tempting but I would not be denied. Around 3 hours and 15 minutes after I started I slowly jogged across the line to the accompanying music of the Rocky theme. I was simultaneously overjoyed and thoroughly disgusted with how the race went. The final indignity was that as I was standing with my hands on my knees trying to contemplate what I'd just done, they pulled the plug on the inflatable finish arch and it deflated behind me.

Post race and in pain
I learned a lot of things from this race. Don't try new things for the first time on your longest run to date, like orthotics. Don't wear cotton without some kind of nipple protection or you will regret it, see above photo. When you go to treat the bleeding nipples, don't shave big circles around them in your chest hair so you can put on band-aids or you'll look ridiculous when you go swimming (for real). Finally, and most importantly, I learned that I'm capable of so much more than I ever thought possible and this has served me well over the past five years.

My next major "I can't" moment came at the Lake Chapparal olympic distance triathlon in Calgary, AB. This was my first open water swim and thus my first time swimming in a wetsuit. Now, a triathlon in a swimming pool is one thing, but venturing out into open water is a whole different animal. You can't touch bottom, there's no resting at each end, and a wetsuit really feels like its squeezing the air out of you if you're not used to it.

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na FAT MAN!

I got about 500m in to the 1500m swim and started to panic. I couldn't breathe. I flipped over onto my back and floated for a bit until I regained my composure. I loosened the velcro around my neck a little and this helped. I got back to work and finished up the swim. Ironically, I probably should have quit this time because I crashed on the first lap of the bike course and took my only DNF of my career to date.

No break in the foot, just pain

Tore up my custom jersey!
Despite not finishing the race I did learn quite a bit from the swim. I still occasionally struggle in open water and I believe it comes from a healthy fear of dieing. When you swim in open water you are surrounded by other swimmers and you get punched, kicked and even swum right over. So on top of just trying to swim you are getting distracted and this adds panic to an already uncomfortable situation. But every time I go through one of these experiences it gets a little bit easier.

A little over a month later I completed an Olympic distance triathlon. This was in Las Vegas and I faced another challenge in that race. Less than 100m after I started I stepped on a stone and turned my ankle. I sat on the ground for a couple of minutes and contemplated whether or not I was going to be able to do this. After testing it out I decided to give it a shot and, although slow, I chipped away at the 10km run and finished in a depressing hour and 35 minutes. But, I finished.

A little bigger than usual.

As the title of this edition suggests, I still have those moments of doubt at every race I do but two major ones stick out in my mind from Ironman. The original Ironman Canada course was in Penticton, BC and it started out with a 60km almost flat section followed by a mountain summit. 1600 feet of elevation over 11km (7ish miles). As I climbed, and climbed and climbed I started thinking WAY ahead about the fact that I had to cycle another 120km and then run a marathon and that I could not do it after this suffering on the bike. Not a chance. But as has always been the case, I put my head down and kept plugging.

Climbing Richter's Pass 2010
One of the nicest things my wife has ever done for me was a small gesture that's become a tradition for my Ironman races. At the time we only had one child and as I laid on the bed the night before Kim came over with Kelland and traced his hand on mine so I would have him with me all day and I used this often for motivation. Now when I travel for a race we put the kids' hands on an over shirt that I wear on the bike.

My boy's hand
When I hit the "run" my calves started cramping so I started out by walking. This walk was awkward and ultimately led to the worst blisters I've experienced in my life. Around kilometer 30 (mile 18)  I felt the one between my first and second toe explode and this felt amazing for the time being. 23When it was all said and done the bottom of my feet were a mess and needed attention at the medical tent. This led to a funny interaction. 99% of the people in the med tent are in rough shape, puking, hallucinating and passing out. Here I am sitting down eating a giant container of Chinese food that my amazing family had waiting for me at the finish line and getting strange looks from the nurses. They finally came over and asked why I was there and with a mouth full of chow mein noodles I mumbled, "my feet hurt." They patched me up and as I went to get up and leave my legs wouldn't work. I actually had to be wheel-chaired to my dad's van to get back to my hotel.

Now my dad was not one to be denied either. This military man was not going to let some fence keep him from getting to his son. So the next thing I know he is pulling up right beside the bike lot with a huge grin on his face. I asked how he got in with a vehicle if all the roads were fenced off. He said, "easy, I moved one." It is these memories of my dad that are special. He would do whatever he needed to for his family.

My most recent "I can't" moment was at Ironman Los Cabos. I mentioned this in my race report but it bears repeating. This was a hard race day. The swim was a little choppy and you had a current working against you. It was hot, windy and the bike was hilly. In fact, they've changed the bike course because they felt it was too hard after the first go 'round. With 40km (24 miles) left in the 180km (112 mile) bike course I had had enough. I was in Mexico alone, I was in pain and I just didn't have anything left in the tank. It was then that I saw my guardian angel Roxi.

Roxi's husband Carlos was racing and I knew the family because I coached their older two boys in high school football. I pulled over on the bike and hugged Roxi. She asked me how I was doing and all I could muster was "not good" and I started crying. Roxi told me to get back out there and that she'd be waiting for me to finish. I needed that and I finished up strong and got out on the run course. I was really hurting, but because of my previous experiences I knew that if I paced myself and just kept moving I would finish with plenty of time before the cut off. I was not happy and with it being a three loop course it is mentally fatiguing because you complete one loop and in your mind you're thinking, "I have to do that two more times?"

Normally at this point I'm smiling and excited. Not in Los Cabos. It was everything I could do to finish.

We often look at clichés as cheesy and of diminished value, but to be honest, there's a reason that things become cliché. They ring true. One of the quotes that you will often see on posters and motivation Twitter accounts is, "Your mind will quit 100 times before your body ever does." This is so completely true. 

I believe everyone needs to incorporate some circuits and lactate threshold work into their regular training plan. If you only ever jog, swim or cycle at a comfortable pace your body won't know how to react when things get tough. By taking your body to the limit on a regular basis you will train not only your body but your mind for the pain of racing. Also, pay attention to your body and how you react to different types of nutrition. The most important lesson I've learned about my body is that if I get sad it's because I'm low on sugar. Within a minute after taking on a gel or some gatorade I can feel my mood elevate and my pace pick back up. You can only find out how your body will react by testing it. This will take time and is not comfortable but the payoff is worth it.

Whatever your motivation, whatever your race, it is absolutely critical that your mind and body both be trained for endurance. Exercise both often and don't be afraid to fail in training. You need to push your limits to continue to grow and improve.

Happy training!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Personal Transformation from Exercising to Training

It has occurred to me a number of times recently that I have made a very slight but important change in my approach to triathlon. I am no longer exercising, I am training. It may seem odd but I think the reason for it boils down to self esteem.

When I first began my journey into fitness I was happy just being out of the house and moving. To be honest, that was all I could expect at that weight. That has continued for about five years. I would get a program from my coaches and if it said "run for 30 minutes" I would go and run for 30 minutes. I wouldn't look for a tough course or push myself particularly hard, to be honest I would look for the flattest course possible, and I would get results because I'd come from so far down.

But after Ironman Coeur d'Alene this year something clicked. It was not a conscious decision but all of a sudden I started looking for hills and pushing my body to where I wan't sure I could take it. Looking back I really think this can be linked to low self esteem and depression. Until recently I think I've been doing the bulk of my athletic endeavors to prove to other people that I'm not as fat and lazy as I appear to be. That was honestly how I saw myself, fat and lazy. Granted, I was right... at the start. Lately, however, I'm starting to see that I'm an athlete again and am putting more pressure on myself to perform, not just participate.

My Mom has battled her weight for my entire life, in fact my entire family has. On one of my dad's tours in Afghanistan Mom decided that she would lose weight. Now if you don't know my mom, she is a stubborn and determined broad. She put her mind to weight loss and lost over 100 pounds within the year. And after that 100 pound weight loss she still said that she didn't see it when she looked at herself in the mirror. I thought she was absolutely nuts, she was almost half the size she had been. But that's the wonderfully awful thing about the human mind. We can convince ourselves of things that aren't really there. If you've got a bad self image you will still see a fat person in the mirror even after you've lost the weight. But, on the positive side, if you've got a good self image you will see a stud when you've got your car's seat reclined all the way, have a pencil thin beard and a hat with a flat brim even though you look ridiculous.
One quick google search got me this. Knew I was right.
Aware of what my mom had told me about weight loss I've been taking photos of myself from day 1 of my weight loss journey. These photos serve as indisputable proof of my progress and even my flawed brain can't convince me that I'm not succeeding. 


Feb 21, 2008
Aug 9, 2013

324 lbs

262 lbs

Despite my obvious progress, I have a very tough time seeing the positive parts of the photos, especially the front view. My love handles SCREAM at me when I see this photo and the thought of putting it online makes my stomach queasy (yours too I'm sure). That being said, this series of photos is something I would encourage everyone who is starting a training program to do. That, and take measurements from time to time. The problem with using just a weight scale when you're getting in shape is that you will put on a bunch of muscle if you're going from fat to fit like I did. This will mean that some weeks you may lose body fat and gain a pound. It's enough to make you crazy if you don't track other indicators of fitness. Another great indicator is just how your clothing fits. You will start to have room where you didn't before and you'll need new holes in your belt.

I know I have some work to do before I'm where I'd like to be physically but keeping these pics handy means that when I'm having doubts and not really liking who I am I can look back and actually see my progress. Aside from my love handles I really am happy with how far I've come and this has led, I believe, to my change in training. I'm at a point now where I have achieved so much that I believe in myself. I'm very sentimental and I find meanings in a great number of things. While running in Great Falls, Montana the song My Inner Ninja came on (click for video). This is a corny poppy song that's fun to run to and just bop along. But this time I actually listened to the lyrics and they struck a major chord with me:

                            I've had bad habits but I dropped em, I dropped em
                                 I've had opponents but I knocked them out
                                        I climbed the highest mountains
                                              I swum the coldest seas
                        There ain't a thing I've faced that's been too much for me

I started thinking that this was actually about me! I had terrible habits that I've had to change.  One of the first adventures Alli and John, our friends and trainers, took us on was up a mountain. At Escape from Alcatraz I swam in water so cold my face froze almost instantly. As for challenges, Ironman is about as tough as they come and I've knocked out four of them so far. Glad I've been an inspiration for a song :)

Kim (front), Alli (middle) and Me
Swimming from Alcatraz to shore. I'm in the black wetsuit.
I know that I'm not done my adventure but I'm certainly well on my way and am so happy I have documented my journey.