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.