Saturday, 29 June 2013

Getting started. Just take it one step at a time... literally.

I get asked quite frequently, "how did you get into triathlon?" To be perfectly honest I fell into it.

December of 2007 my wife and I went to Mexico for a beautiful holiday. We stayed at a gorgeous resort, with amazing food and unlimited drinks. But despite this perfect setting I was extremely unhappy. I didn't want to go to the pool or lay around with my shirt off because I had gotten fat. I mean really fat. I had finally topped out at 324 lbs. This did not happen suddenly but rather accumulated over time so I didn't really notice. I mean, a pound here, a pound there but ultimately it got to a point where I was just embarrassed.

I made a New Year's resolution on December 31, 2007 that I would go home and join a fitness group of some kind.

                                                Puerto Vallarta, Mexico December 2007  

When we got home my wife Kim contacted a local boot camp group and we started the next week. The first day of boot camp we did some physical testing and took some measurements. The two things that hit me the hardest were that it took me 8 minutes to run a kilometer (.6 of a mile) and my waist had gotten to a monstrous 52 inches. I wasn't putting my belt on with a boomerang just yet but it was a major wake-up call.

Seven years earlier I was a college football player and I had let myself get to a point where basically jogging around the block was a heart attack-inducing venture. We started out with a sweetheart of an instructor name Rebecca and she was the perfect leader for someone like me. I needed someone to show me what to do and push me just a little bit but when I told her that was all I could do she understood and gave me a little space.

Don't underestimate the power of groups. Groups provide you with a few things that trying to "go it alone" won't facilitate. The camaraderie of a group of people all working towards a common goal, whether it be getting into shape or escaping from a maximum-security prison, is a powerful tool. The next is shame. Never underestimate shame. If you know that this group will be questioning your whereabouts if you miss a session it can be the difference between, "ah, missing this one won't matter" and "well, I guess I better go."  Getting into the habit of doing your workout EVERY DAY is so important. If you give yourself the option of missing workouts it becomes easier every time.

By the end of 12 weeks with Rebecca, Kim and I could run a kilometer without walking even a step. This may not seem like much of an achievement but we were ecstatic and I think that's one of the biggest lessons to remember. Celebrate your achievements, don't diminish anything you do.

In addition to boot camp I also signed up for men's league hockey as another form of exercise and this was a fortuitous move as it lead me into triathlon. The first push towards triathlon was a high-ankle sprain. I was skating towards the bench for a line change and my skate blade got caught in a groove in the ice. I turned my ankle and instantly knew I was in trouble. I had a radiating pain up my left leg and could not put any weight on it. I was really depressed because my running had come so far and I knew I was in for some rehab. X-Rays confirmed that it was just muscular and not bone but it was going to be 6 weeks in a walking cast, a week of which was walking around Disneyland. Now it wasn't all bad. Yes, wearing a foam leg cast during the California Summer is hot, sweaty and smells of a fragrant French cheese. But at least you get to line jump at the Matterhorn!

This was a watershed moment for me. Typically I would have returned to my couch and Xbox and sat around complaining about the fact that I couldn't exercise but, "hey, what are you gonna do? I'm hurt." Instead, I took to the pool. Our local pool has a couple of 25m lanes for lane swim and the rest is dedicated to "fun swim." Fortunately I took lessons growing up and was quite a good swimmer so this was going to be easy. I began my first length and started thrashing, gasping and coughing from one end to the other. I would do a length, hang on for 30 seconds and then head back. This was going to be tough!  After healing up I returned to hockey for another shot at my favorite game.

I have always been very competitive but also have a good moral compass. The hockey team I played on was not very good at all, to be blunt we were terrible, so I took on the enforcer role. For my American readers the enforcer in hockey is responsible for protecting the players that actually possess skill. I truly did not start any of the battles I got in to, but once my crazy switch was thrown it was tough to turn it back off.

There were a couple of incidents that lead me to believe that maybe hockey wasn't the sport for me. The first was the game when I ran out of sticks.  After giving up a number of goals early in a game I snapped my stick over the crossbar and went back to the bench and got my backup. The next shift some gomer on the other team decided to play rough with one of my teammates so I came behind him and crosschecked him across the back busting my backup stick into two. When I got back to the bench no one was really impressed by my antics and I was forced out of the game because I no longer had a stick and my teammates wouldn't lend me one.

My final, "ah ha!" moment was the morning after a game. I'm a high school teacher and I showed up to work one morning after having gotten into a hockey fight the night before with a black eye and nursing a hangover. I took a look at myself and realized I was a 27 year old teacher, not a 16 year old punk. What the hell was I doing with my life? Hockey was not for me, I'm too dumb. I still needed a sport to keep myself motivated to exercise so I started looking around at what I could do. One of my co-workers was training for an Ironman triathlon and even though that was WAY TOO FAR for someone like me to do I had been running and swimming and thought maybe a short triathlon would be a good goal.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Ironman Los Cabos 2013: It was the worst of times, that is all.


Hola amigos! 

 What a week it's been. Mexico has been absolutely beautiful. My trip started out with a bit of a hiccup. My 5pm flight was delayed because of a blown tire in Ft Mac so I got moved from the Air Canada 5pm to the United midnight flight. This meant a few things.

1) I paid a $75 change fee in December to get off the midnight flight and on to the earlier one...
2) I paid $50 for the desirable seating...
3) my pre-paid hotel in Houston would sit empty
4) oh, and United charges $200 for a bike to Air Canada's $50

The Air Canada agent's response.... So you don't want to go? AAAAAHH!

Fortunately at the airport the (rather attractive) ticket agents took pity on me and waived the bike fee entirely. Sweet, my good looks and charm FINALLY get me something.

So after flying to Houston and getting no sleep on the plane I managed to grab 90 min off and on, on the floor of IAH airport. 

Finally get to Cabo and things are looking up. Got paired up with a cool firefighter from LA that's also doing the race. Dude is 25 and the ultimate Cali boy, accent, dress, everything. We hit it off. In line we also ran into a South African bank exec doing the race and the 3 of us became thick as thieves. 

Registration was in my hotel so that was sweet. Just a few steps from my room and into the line ups. This went smoothly and the "gift" was a really nice running jacket. I then went to the pre-race meeting and stayed until the stupid questions started. You know the ones, "Uh, will the water be chilled or will it be tepid?" QUIET DOWN YOU!
Saturday was bike check in. This was very confusing for everyone as they did not include a list of which bag was what (bike, bike special, run, etc). To get to T1 you took a highway bus but you took you bike ON the bus, so a full bus only took about 15 athletes. DOH! After getting there things went smoothly and it was a great day to chill out.

SUNDAY: It started with a 4am wake up, light breakfast and bus to swim start. It was already warm and the nerves were high. After checking my bike for the 11th time and checking out Hillary Biscay for the 20th time I put on my wetsuit and headed down. The pros went off and we herded down. It was at this time the Incan gods decided they were not so happy with all the Gringos invading their water and decided to get nasty. Just as the horn went off a series of 3 swells came smashing into the start blowing some athletes off of their feet and along the beach. (YOUTUBE Ironman Los Cabos 2013 Swim Start to see it!)

The swim was choppy and slow. Because it's a bay the waves seemed to come from everywhere but behind you. Additionally, the small beach meant everyone was funneled into a small stream and it was after the 3000m buoy that I finally found a spot away from people. I took many kicks and even a slap to the face. One doofus in front of me would do 3 crazy karate kicks if someone touched his feet. These were not propulsion kicks, he was trying to hurt people, so I entertained myself by touching his feet about every 15 seconds for 10 minutes or so. Got out of the water in 1:25 very upset but after talking to some others was happier with this result. 
T1 was across a beach and up some steep stairs. I spent quite a while in T1 because of the sun, I coated myself in sunscreen and got ready.

The bike course coming out was a steep climb for about 500m including a few cobblestoned sections then leveled out for a km. After this IT WAS ON. This course was always a climb or a descent. We started west to Cabo San Lucas along the main highway then returned and did an out and back to the airport. 2 loops. It was 20mph winds and 96 degree heat all day. There was plenty of water and Gatorade but the bars were a Quaker cereal bar that were REALLY dry and crumbled when opened. Poor choice of food but we were all in the same boat. My first stretch went really well, I was pedaling hard and riding out the hills well but the heat and wind and hills broke me. There was one hill going to the airport where the wind was so strong I was doing 34km/hr uphill but 27km/hr down. Before the last airport loop (140km in) I saw a mother of some students I teach whose husband was racing. I pulled over to talk to her and just started crying. I was so damaged. I mercifully got off the bike in 7:09:59.

T2 was ok, some sunscreen, some Vaseline and a pep talk and I was off. It was a 3 loop course which was mentally fatiguing because it was always the same stuff. Not a challenging run except for the fact that I was cooked, literally. I ran fairly well for the first 7 miles but then I had to walk.... for 19 miles. I hooked up with some cool people and talked at them until they decided they should run away, I suppose they owe me for a faster finish time. There was never any doubt I would finish, just when. And it was a while. 

The people lining the streets seemed to be impressed by my stature and as I ran by they kept yelling "ANIMO!" and I was like, "yeah, I am an animal, GRRRRRR!" This went on for 5 or 6 hours and I was jacked that I was getting this kind of response. I finally crossed the line at 10:48 pm with a just under 7 hr marathon. I got my medal and just started crying, I knew I had just done the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I got to the recovery area, sat down and just cried for about 5 min. Then I ate pizza. T2 was about 500m from the finish so I headed back to my bike and collected my stuff. As I walked down the street my little angel, the mom that let me cry on her shoulder, spotted me and called me over to the cantina that she was sitting in. She immediately got me a beer and a chair and I was in heaven. By this time her husband had been long finished and was sitting there was another couple who were waiting on their daughter to finish. I was giving them a recap of my race and started telling them that the people were so impressed by me that they were calling me "animal." Carlos, the husband and Cabo native, looked at me sideways and in his Mexican accent said, "No mang, Ani-MO. It just means keep going." My face dropped and we burst into laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. They were so great that they carted my sorry carcass back to my resort and even got me to my room. I will never forget their kindness.  

Many of you know my mission is to get to Kona via the Legacy Lottery and I know that when that day comes it was because of my perseverance in this race that I deserve it. I was very unhappy with my time until I looked at the results and I was 810/1336. How did this happen? Over 400 athletes DNFed because of the conditions. 39 just in my age group of 181. 

I don't get too much time to dwell on this one as I'm back at it in3 months in CdA. I really would hesitate to recommend this race unless you are willing to train stupid hard on a bike trainer all winter. Maybe just come eat and get drunk like my Monday to Wednesday has been. 

See you all soon!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Ironman Coeur d'Alene

Once again my trip started off with a screeching halt at the airport. In order to breeze through security I applied for a NEXUS card and it arrived on Tuesday and I left on Thursday, SWEET! I have been screened and interviewed and I am not a threat to anyone. Unless you own a buffet, then lookout, I'm coming for you!

I use the NEXUS machine and get a card that you hand to the officer before proceeding into the terminal. I hand him his card, he gets really excited and says, "follow me please sir."  I thought maybe I'm getting the VIP service. Not exactly. Apparently someone with a VERY similar name (don't want to publish it but it's VERY similar), born November 25, 1979 (I'm Nov 25, 1980) was wanted by the FBI. The border guard asks if I have anything to declare. I blurt out, "I HAVE A CUBAN CIGAR!!!" He looks at me and says, "that's it?", I'm like "YEAH!!!"  He asks, "who's Sarah Hackett?" I have NO IDEA. After giving me the once over it turns out the other guy is a 6' 3" black man. I...... am not.

Unfortunately, the guard then looks at me and says, "now about that CEE-gar." The sad truth about the cigar is that my mom had bought it for my dad to smoke on his 60th birthday in Mexico. As many of you know he passed away 2 days before that birthday laying next to the pool. My mom gave me the cigar and told me to give it a fitting home and I thought that after Ironman would be a fitting tribute. Unfortunately the border guard wouldn't let it slip and made me crush it into a garbage can. This was a major bummer but considering the scare the guy put into me I was happy to walk away and onto my flight.

After this it was smooth sailing into Spokane and further into Coeur d'Alene. I had a some time to kill so I visited the local Wal-Marts and Costco looking for unique items that I couldn't get at home. They sell amazing wines (one of which is accompanying this report) at Costco. I'm not kidding, the one I'm enjoying was scored an 89 and because the Americans refuse to be taxed it was $12. I swear that if I lived in the USA I would walk around in an alcoholic haze, 24-7. It's so cheap it's insulting NOT to drink. I wouldn't be able to compete in Ironman but I'm certain that I'd be too happy to care. Anywho, I sampled the local cuisine and took in a movie to try and get to race day.

Race day came with the same poor sleep that seems to accompany every race. Many of you know the sleep, waking up every 20 minutes to check the clock so that you don't sleep in. Fidgeting and generally not enjoying the exquisite bed that the Super 8 provided. Seriously, this place was really nice. The wonderful included breakfast and service was amazing. In fact, the 20-something girl at the front desk practically vaulted over the counter to get the door for me when I arrived with all my bags. My alarm finally went off at 4:30am and I was already up so it was no big deal. I grabbed my usual race day breakfast of a bar, banana and a gatorade.

I jumped in the car and drove down to the race site and managed to get a really good parking spot by pure fluke. I followed an Ironman staff member through a barricade and when the guy at the lot stopped me he said, "you're not supposed to be in here." I turned on my charm and he let me slip past and into a spot just past the staff parking. SWEET! I got into transition at about 5:00 and again it was TOO EARLY. I do this every friggin' race but I'd rather be early than late. I really struggled this morning. For some reason I was in a bad head space and to be brutally honest I was so angry at all the idiots around me. I don't know why but people putting on airs about their greatness drives me nuts. Maybe if I was good at this sport I'd do the same but I just don't like all the douchebaggery.

I sat in front of my bike and genuinely contemplated not getting in the water. At this point I had a nice little chat with my dad (at least as much as an atheist heathen like myself can) and realized that all the time away from my family training was for this moment. I put on my wetsuit and headed into the start area.

This was the first time that Ironman used their new SmartSwim initiative. It. Is. Awesome. You go behind the sign displaying your expected finish time in the swim. Under 60, 1 hr - 1:15, 1:15-1:30, blah blah blah. This does a few things. Firstly, if you're not into MMA you don't have to get pummeled whilst swimming. Let's face it, when the first Ironman took place it was 24 people, not 2400. This race was not intended to be a test of strength, it is a test of endurance. 2.4 miles of swimming, not fighting and if you disagree with me I'll fight you. Ironic, no? Another nice feature of this swim start is that your time does not start until you pass under the archway (just like a marathon) so you're not losing time by letting the good swimmers get away from you. Your time is truly what you swim.

I have to admit I did have an evil little smile at one point. Because the swim is a 2 looper the timing worked out that EXACTLY as the mid-pack pro women came around for lap 2 the elite age groupers went off. Now, these ladies that are used to somewhere between 12 and 25 people in the water are right in the thick of it. I wonder if they have a better appreciation for us lowly age-groupers now?

Another feature of the SmartSwim is that "resting rafts" are placed along the course for people that needed a break. 6 minutes in I knew I had screwed up. My wetsuit wasn't high enough on my beautifully sculpted shoulders so I pulled over and yanked the suit up. Much better, my lungs expanded and off I went. The rest of the swim was actually quite peaceful and a nice change from your typical Ironman swim. I got out of the water in 1:17:11. Pretty respectable I think.

Transition was transition. Run up the beach, some muscular men rip your clothes off. Much like my Friday night. Every time I do one of these things I learn something and my mission this time was no sunburns. I bought a long-sleeved white Under Armour shirt and cropped it half way up my body where my arm holes let in harmful damaging UV rays. This was a really smart move and I will do this every race from now on. I got one little burn on my back and one NASTY one on my thigh but compared to some of the stuff I've dealt with in the past I'm as happy as me at a buffet (I like buffets).

Jump on the bike and it starts out quite peacefully, little out and back featuring a hill maybe double Emily Murphy in Edmonton. Nice little wake up call for the legs and a good warm up. After this you return back to town and head out on the long part of the loop. As you leave town there is a bridge that is open to traffic so both directions of bikes share one lane. This lane is separated from bikes on one side with full size cones and from cars on the other with full size cones. And these cones are like every 3 meters so it creates a really weird tunnel effect and no passing is allowed so you're being pushed to go quickly by your fellow athletes. It really is nerve wracking seeing these bright orange cones whipping by on each side with literally inches on either side of you. After this there is a brief flat followed by the hardest hill of the course. It is a 2 mile 6% grade that is pretty stinkin' tough. After you crest there's a quick downhill and at this point the race snapped back into focus. A bike was laying in the cars lane and people were running around like mad. We've all been there and it's just a sickening feeling.

I was feeling pretty good so I pushed the uphills pretty well and FLEW on the downhills. I was the crazy guy screaming "ON YOUR LEFT!" at the dorks just cruising down the hill. Please ride on the right side of a downhill. Fat people like me truly can't stop even if we have to on a 6% grade. At best we'll slow down enough that we won't completely squish you. On my second time through town I saw another site that makes me nuts. A father and his approximately 8 year old son were crossing the road and a cyclist coming towards me hit the kid and flipped his bike. There was nothing in the paper about serious injuries so I'm hoping they parted ways with nothing more than an angry word.  I finished up the bike in 6:38:34 and was tired but ready for the run.

Again, simple transition. Put on my running stuff and off I go.

The run is very similar to Penticton. You run through town then towards the lake. You run along the lake and as you near the turn around there's a long steep hill that you go up and down, turn around and do it again. However, CdA is a 2 loop course so you do this all twice. I started out feeling awesome turning over a few 12 minute miles (I know, how do I not burst into flames at that speed?) The run through town is super fun, people bring out stereos and play loud music and what not. The BEST spot is the university-aged kids who party HARD while the race is going on. We'll get back to them in 20 miles.

As I made my way towards the big hill Sarah (a teammate) was coming the other way smiling and running. Yeah, Sarah. Miss, "oh, I don't think I'm going to do very well. I haven't been able to run. My hip hurts, blah blah blah." LIAR! LIAR! This future doctor goes and turns in a 12 hour Ironman. In truth I'm very proud of you Sarah, so tough and well trained.

As many of us know the run is a weird experience. Seemingly crippled people running at a 45 degree angle but still moving. Fat guys running with perfect form. Some people (me) talking your ear off, and others that look like if they try and speak they will burst into tears. About 18 miles in I see a gentleman in his 50s in racing kit that is torn up and he has some serious road rash. I ask him what the heck happened. He said he was going down the first hill, hit a bump and wiped out. I told him the fact that he was still going made him a hero and he said, "no, the real hero is the volunteer that pulled him out of oncoming traffic." I was SO happy to hear that the guy that had that awful looking wreck was now finishing Ironman. So amazing.

At this point I was some 5 miles from the finish and feeling pretty good. At this point in every race I have the same question. Why are you skinny people with tons of energy and perfect form just passing me now? WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN ALL DAY?!? I want to hold one down and beat their secret out of them but if I bend past 90 degrees I'm scared I won't ever get back up.

Back to the college kids. 3 miles from the finish and I'm feeling fantastic. I round the corner and they're playing a thumping rap song and the lyrics are, "whoop whoop pull over that ass too fat."  ( I couldn't resist so I stopped in the middle of the street and starting doing a booty shake. This made the kids go CRAZY. Two girls in their early 20s, way out of my league, run over and start dancing with me. The first bends over and puts her hands on the road and puts her booty against my booty and starts bumping. The other stands in front of me and starts grinding my leg. At this point I'm literally stunned. It is one of the greatest moments of my life and I need to leave to go and finish my stupid little race. NOOOOOOOO!!! There must be photos of this somewhere to prove this and I need to find them. I must prove this happened.

The next experience was concurrently the saddest AND funniest thing I may have ever seen. The locals are awesome here and rather than put out stereos some actually play live music. 1 mile from the finish a young teenage girl was playing the violin. She was obviously new to the instrument so this was not a jaunty Natalie McMaster type tune. It was a sad, almost lament type of song (well-played I might add), and not 30 feet from where this song was being played an older athlete was puking his guts out. I couldn't help but burst into laughter at this sight. Maybe it's only funny after 14 hours of exercise but I lost it.

From there I rounded the corner and into the chute where the people make you feel like a champion. It truly is a life-changing experience to go through one of these Ironman finishes. That positivity aside, crossing the finish line is one of the saddest things you can experience as a fat man. They have unlimited pizza and chocolate milk and you've earned it. But for some reason you can't put down more than 2 slices. Why? Why would you do this to me?

A happy finisher!

From there I got my massage and the amazing volunteers rounded up all of my gear and sent me on my way. I got back to the hotel, popped my cheap champagne and poured it into my paper Super 8 cup from the back of the bathroom sink. After mopping up the wine that shot out onto the bed I climbed into that bed for a well earned rest.

A little well-earned bubbly!

Happy racing,