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Wednesday, 31 December 2014

And it begins


So I have begun chemo and with it the true fight against cancer. On December 19th I had a port put in. This was actually a very quick procedure but when the nurse started to describe it to me I told her she could just skip to the part where I sign off on permission.

This port means that I don't have to get poked constantly to get my chemo drugs put in and makes it a very simple procedure. The surgery itself was only about 8 minutes and the doctor was very good and actually quite hilarious. I was tented off so that only my neck and right chest were exposed and they let me wear my headphones with my music on low so that they could still talk to me. 

A small (about 1 1/2 inch) incision is made and a triangular bubble was inserted above my nipple. Then a catheter (tube) was fed up to my neck where another incision was made and it was inserted into my jugular vein. Then I'm closed up and sent to recovery for a couple of hours. This was all done just with local freezing. The nurse asked if I wanted some numbing and I said yes so she leaned down to my ear and went "num num num num." (not really but that would have been awesome). The nurses were just awesome and after my surgery took some pictures for me.

After looking at the photos I noted a major mistake in my photo prep. When wearing yoga pants I need to hike them up and not slouch because the resulting muffin top is just too much.

The nurses were also smart and told me to take a sympathy photo just in case I needed it later. 

This needed to heal before anything else could be done but in that time I received a package that meant a great deal to me. It was from Fireman Rob (@teamfiremanrob). Rob is a firefighter and USAF vet from Wisconsin that competes in Ironman triathlons. However, to raise money for ailing firefighters Rob does the marathon portion of Ironmam in full bunker gear with helmet and Airpac. Seeing Rob out on the course in all that gear is truly inspiring and I've lived chatting with him a little the few times we've shared a course. After my diagnosis I messaged Rob on Twitter and told him how inspiring I found him. He responded by sending me a running hat from his charity. But the other item in the package brought Kim and I to tears. It was Rob's race bib from Kona (Ironman World Championship 2012) with a note on the back telling me to stay strong and that I'd earn my own. Triathletes will understand that this is a treasured item and so to give it to someone is really an incredible gesture. I framed it and went to Michael's craft store and put ánimo on the front. Thank you so much Rob.

On December 30th we got to meet with Dr. Michael Sawyer. He's an incredibly nice man but what was most impressive was his astounding knowledge. He sat with Kim and I for an hour and a half and although the prognosis is not much different he gave us some hope. He said no one can predict when any of us will go and that I shouldn't discount my physical fitness. He wants me to continue training as much as I can as, in his words, "we have no idea why Lance Armstrong is still alive." We asked about me planning to complete an Ironman in August. His response? "Go for it!" Awesome. Additionally, he also mentioned that there are drugs in the works that may be incredibly successful in the future. So although I was hoping he would sit us down and apologize because they were wrong and, in fact, I didn't have cancer I am very happy in his care. As we left he told me I would be starting chemo the next morning at 8:15am. This was great as I didn't have much time to fret, although I didn't sleep well.

They warned us to not arrive early as the doors don't open until 8:15 and they weren't kidding. A group of us huddled in the entry way to the room and at exactly 8:15 the doors opened up and we shuffled in. I was escorted to my chair and my nurse Paige asked if I had a port. I told her I did and this made her very happy as it is very easy to hook me up, and she was right. Rather than a standard needle the drugs are given through a device that can best be described as a power plug with a single pointy prong. This prong is pushed through the skin and into the bubble. That's it. 

The nurse was awesome and made me very comfortable. She explained all of the possible side effects and what to watch out for and fortunately I only experienced one of the very minor ones. My head and hands began to sweat excessively so I was given a shot of Atropine and it fixed itself up. As the nurse promised chemo was actually quite underwhelming. You sit in a chair for 3 hours and then you leave. That's it. 


Well, that's not totally it. For the next 46 hours I get to wear a very functional yet stylish fanny pack with a bottle of chemotherapy that pumps into me at a slow rate for the next 2 days. It's a bit of a hassle, but you know what REALLY sucks? Dying sooner.


I truly hope everyone has an amazing 2015 filled with incredible experiences and wonderful memories. You only get one shot and none of us know how long it will be. Ánimo




Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Wake up call

Kim made a really good point the other day. She told me, "all the doctor said is, 'in 6 years something bad might happen to you'."

This resonated with me. None of us is guaranteed anything but in our day to day we can get super stressed out about stupid little things and forget to appreciate the good things. This morning for example, my 3 year old Calliah got up and came into our room. Typically I would shoo her away and try and get back to sleep. Instead I brought her in to bed and cuddled her extra hard and had a fun little conversation with her. This only cost me about 15 minutes of sleep but was worth so much more in terms of being a dad. 

A couple of years ago my friend Tyler and I hit a moose on our way to referee a hockey game. We easily could have been killed that night but weren't. Everything since then should have felt like a bonus to me but we get back into our normal day to day lethargy and forget to enjoy this limited life.
Our mortality is a real bummer but being awakened to it is sure a great way to remember to get the most out of the life we are given. 

Don't get me wrong, I've been really anxious and upset at times this past month but I'm usually able to find something positive to get me back on board. Sometimes it's a research study that gives me some hope, sometimes it's a survivor story and other times it's the fact that if things don't work out I won't have to endure this seemingly endless rebuild the Oilers are trying to put me through. 

The next step is getting a port inserted into my chest so that chemo is easier to do. This will be on Friday and I was pretty nervous about it. Fortunately my mom connected me with a local police officer that underwent treatment last year for colon cancer and he really put my mind at ease.

Stay healthy and happy and we'll chat soon. 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Roller Coaster of Emotions

Kim and I want to start out this post by stating how incredibly thankful we are to the people in our lives. This last month we have been taken care of in so many different ways and the sad reality of it all is that there is no way we will ever be able to repay anyone adequately. 

The dinner and silent auction that was held to make sure we didn't have any financial worries during our cancer battle was absolutely amazing. 300 people took time out of their lives and money out of their wallets for us. It was an amazing collection of people I've come across in my 34 years and it was so neat to have them all in the same room. Brett and Amie Babkirk put together an event that anyone would be proud of, oh, and they did it in about 3 weeks!

The other contributions Kim and I are ever-thankful for are the people we've relied on time and time again for babysitting, rides and my friends in the medical community who have entertained my seemingly endless stream of questions without batting an eye. 

Now on to the big stuff. We had our first consult with the Cross Cancer Institute doctors. Kim and I made our way into the room prepared to hear that I had Stage 4 Cancer and a plan on how they would attack it. What we got was absolutely gutting. Our oncologist had zero bedside manner and appeared to be nervous and unsure of what she was telling us. One if the first things she explained was that "this is not curable." This hit me HARD. I actually had to lay down on the table and actually sweated through my hospital gown. After rambling about some numbers she came back around and said, "but it is treatable." I half yelled half gasped "you need to say that first!" After this she explained that I would need to be "on chemo for the rest of my life every second week until I become too fatigued either physically or mentally to continue treatment. She then drew us a bell curve and explained that the 50% person gets 26 months. Everyone else ranges from 6 months to 6 years and because I'm young and healthy I'm probably on the right side of the chart. 

Devastated, Kim and I walked out and across campus to get some lunch as we had to kill an hour before chemo school started. We got a couple of sandwiches but hardly touched them as we just stared at each other and contemplated this news. After this we made our way back to the Cross and started chemo school. It was at this point I got pissed off and started thinking about all the positive stories I'd read online. So I started looking them up again and realized that what this first doctor had told me was about someone else. This was not how you treat a young athlete, this is how you treat an 84 year old with diabetes. 

After chemo school I approached the nurse and asked about switching doctors. She told me it wasn't overly common but got me a phone number and we submitted a request for a doctor change. I also put in a request directly through the Cross for the most aggressive oncologist on staff and I'm happy to tell you that he will be handling me from now on.

The next day we got a call from my original surgeon and she told us some more awesome news. I have to admit, I hated her SO much in the hospital, who was she to find cancer in me? It's ok because I told her before I left, but she has stayed on my case and two weeks ago had spoken with a liver surgeon who said they would do a liver resection if I responded to the chemotherapy. 

Attitude readjusted!!! The morning before I was told good luck and ride it out. The next morning I've got a team ready to work for me. 

People! Don't always accept the first thing you're told. I refuse to lay down and literally die, I've got too much to live for. Cancer fucked with the wrong guy. 

The next step is a CT scan on the 16th to establish my baseline then on the 19th to get a port put into my chest to make getting chemo easier. It will need time to heal and I'll start some time after Christmas. 

We're looking forward to getting going and starting with the good news! 

Ánimo

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Changing personal image - being a big boy

It's funny, throughout this entire ordeal I've only cried once. It was not when they told me I had stage 4 cancer, it was not when I couldn't talk because my tongue was so dry it was stuck to my cheek, it was the first time they came and changed my flange on my colostomy and explained that I will be glueing a ring to my belly a couple of times a week and strapping a bag to it to collect my poop.



Looking down at this open wound in my gut I was devastated at how I now looked. I spend a great deal of time at gyms and that involves changing and showering in group environments. I still haven't been to the gym and can't imagine how I'm going to deal with that. I wasn't overly happy with how I looked anyway, so now, walking around with a poop bag is another shot to the ego I'm not sure I'm ready for. I've done some reading online and it sounds like one popular solution is the Stealth Belt. This clever contraption goes around your waist and you tuck your bag inside of it. This holds the bag more secure and also hides it should your shirt ride up. 

I'm almost certain that I will get a few comments telling me it's ok and that it's a common reaction but it's really hard to deal with. A major part of my life is now monitoring body functions that were never given a second thought. Do I have my repair kit? Am I full? Blah blah blah.  

This is one of the first times I've ever written about things being bad but I want to make sure this entire process is documented honestly. It's not all sunshine and rainbows. I have been EXTREMELY lucky in many regards, but in this area I'm still bummed. I know it will get easier and become more of a non-issue but for now it still really sucks. 

However, there are definitely some positives to this bag that I can't deny. While I have it, I won't have to make that Sophie's choice of using a public restroom for a #2 or holding it and getting a belly ache. Especially at a hockey game. What is wrong with you fellas? Just because you're at a hockey game aim and decency go right out the window? GROSS! Also, when it comes to it I won't need to worry about unexpected bathroom breaks during a triathlon. Nope, this minute saver strapped to my belly might just be the difference between qualifying for Kona or not. Haha, not really, I'm still fat and slow.

Hopefully you're not bummed out or feeling sorry for me. I'm still in a great place and eager to get this fight started. December 4th I have a biopsy look at some suspicious lymph nodes in my belly and see if they're cancerous (they will be). After that they'll read the results and call us in for our attack plan. I'll let you know what they say! 

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Waiting and staying positive

Without a doubt the hardest part of this entire thing is the waiting. That and the internet. And the more time you have to wait, the more time there is to search the internet.

One of the first tweets I sent out after I found out I had cancer was, "Great, now WebMD is trolling me. They just DMed me 'Told you it was cancer'." This was a nod to the fact that typing almost any symptoms into the internet comes back with the result that you have some kind of debilitating or terminal illness, when, in truth, you probably have a splinter or a headache. So now imagine you HAVE one of those nasty illnesses. At this point the internet becomes an endless supply of hope and despair depending on which link you click.

When I left the hospital I went home knowing only a few things. I had a large tumor in my colon that was removed and I had two tumors on my liver. They also suspected that I had some cancer in my lymph nodes as that's the method of travel from the colon to the liver. A few days after getting home the phone rang and it was my surgeon. She had some results to give us about the tumor. Voice quaking and hands shaking I dictated to Kim what the surgeon was telling me and she hurriedly jotted down everything. The doctor told me I had what is called Adenocarcinoma. This alone was enough to make my legs go wobbly. What's hilarious is that I had no idea what Adenocarcinoma was, it just sounded SO MUCH scarier than cancer. She told us that the tumor she had removed was completely contained and that the tissue on either side of the tumor was completely clear meaning she had removed the entire thing. She had taken 45 lymph nodes from the area and all 45 came back positive for cancer.

After a quick google session we discovered that Adenocarcinoma is the cancer that occurs 95% of the time in colon cancer. This was great because that's where the bulk of research and treatment have been directed. The other 5% seem to be angry alien cancers where they throw some chemicals at you and hope to hell that they work.

So after the phone call Kim and I sat on the couch, shaking, and reviewed what we had just been told. After letting our heads clear we realized it was an awesome phone call. We found out 3 things we already knew: I had colon cancer, it was in my lymph nodes and liver and that was that. The NEW info was that I had the common cancer and that the tumor they took out was contained and completely removed. It was actually just a bunch of good news. This is the best skill we have. Seeking and finding the positive in every situation.

I get some really funny looks when I say this but I've told everyone who'll listen just how lucky I am. I understand this may seem silly but in reality I've had a string of good luck to get me to the point I'm at. Had the tumor not flopped just so and completely blocked my colon I likely would not have found this tumor in time to do anything about it. Secondly, the fact that the tumor was so large that they couldn't get the stent in forced the surgeon to take out the tumor immediately. This meant I didn't have to sit around for weeks with this thing inside of me worrying about what would come of it. I just went to sleep and woke up with a bunch of cancer taken out. That and a poop bag. I was only 10 days from competing in my 8th Ironman triathlon so from a physical fitness standpoint I couldn't be better off and geographically, I just happen to live in a city with a world class cancer centre. There are SO many people that have it worse than me.

I would be remiss if I didn't address the newspaper article and the outpouring of support I've received from former students, colleagues, hockey officials, triathletes and the community at large. In 12 days over $14,000 has been donated to a Go Fund Me account my cousin set up meaning that after my pay is reduced in February we are able to top up my pay for a further 6 months and when you're feeding 6 people on one paycheque this is absolutely amazing. Not having to stress about money and just focusing on getting healthy is the greatest gift we could receive.

The next step is a lymph node biopsy to verify that the suspicious nodes are cancerous (which I suspect they are). This will take place December 4th. From there the doctors will look at my test results and make an attack plan. I'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Ok guys grab a knee. Let's talk health.

I didn't really realize what I'd been training so hard for all of these years. Somehow I'd convinced myself that Ironman was going to be the be all and end all test of my health and conditioning. That all changed last Wednesday when I was registered in the toughest endurance race of my life against my will. Beating Stage 4 cancer.

Here's the problem, cancer, or any other disease was not on my radar in the slightest. I don't go for annual checkups, I don't regularly check my body for weirds lumps and bumps and I definitely don't examine my poop. Why? Because if I do they might find out something was wrong and that's scary. That's where we need to pull our heads out of our asses and get a camera or a finger up there.

My suspicion is that in our male world, having a finger or device shoved up your pooper is embarassing and emasculating. We've all made the jokes about trying to find your dignity up there or whether they're using a whole fist. But the truth of the matter is that 1) They give you some pretty fantastic sedation so you're either out of it completely or in a state where you just don't care. 2) The professionals in the offices are so amazing that you are treated like a human being and it is not the least bit awkward. This is where I would implore you guys to just get it done. Plus, afterwards, you'll cut some of the biggest farts you've ever experienced. That, paired with the fact that you're high on meds makes for one of the funniest things you'll ever experience.
http://littlelessonslearned.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/colon.jpg
This is the first key to beating an illness: EARLY DETECTION.
Check for lumps and bumps, monitor your overall health and look for changes to your skin and other areas of your body. There are a huge number of things that can be caught on a simple battery of tests that aren't hugely invasive or time consuming. Inspect your testicles for odd bumps or other abnormalities (PLEASE NOTE: If you're reading on the bus, don't do this now. Make a note or reminder in your phone and do it at home.) HOW TO INSPECT YOUR TESTICLES
By doing your annual checkup you get baselines that can be monitored year to year for abnormalities. This is coming from a guy that has done none of this but deeply wishes he had. I've seen what can happen if you ignore the signs. My dad convinced himself he was having bad heart burn and dropped dead of a heart attack. Not smart, stubborn, tough, but not smart.

The next key in my mind is: HEALTHY LIFESTYLE.
I don't think this comes as a surprise but living well helps to fight off as much as possible but I think more importantly in my case, I'm starting from a very strong base when it comes to beating cancer. For those that don't know, my typical training days for Ironman triathlon range anywhere from 2-5 hours of training. This has trained my body to recover quickly, but more importantly to know how far down I can beat myself and still be able to come back for more. As I write this, I am 6 days out of surgery and am feeling almost fully mobile. I attibute this to my body's familiarity with being exhausted and damaged and having to repair itself.

Taken 1 week before my surgery, post 1700 stairs

Additionally, my muscles and organs have great vascularization (blood flow) so when the time comes for them to repair, there are a bunch of nutrient carrying vessels attached and ready to work. My heart and lungs are ready for surgeries that can be very hard on them and my diet is pretty good meaning that my cells are ready to fight.

My final piece of the puzzle is STAY POSITIVE.
We've all heard of the power of positive thinking but I really believe there is something to it. I don't know if it's related to endorphins or cortisol or what but I think that staying positive can be a hugely important factor. When you fail to do it yourself that's when you need to have a support group there to pick you up. I've already run into this once. My first day home, four days after surgery, I was laying on the couch and my gorgeous wife Kim needed me to help with something. I was not feeling up to it and told her I didn't want to help. I finished with, "c'mon, I've got cancer." Without missing a beat Kim said, "You don't have that much cancer, get up!" I was so stunned I started laughing and did what I was told. I guess that well is dry. I need my mother-in-law to come home from Mexico and keep my wife away from me, she's mean.

   
My wife: Circa 3 days ago
The outpouring of love and support from my friends, loved ones, former students, fellow hockey referees and triathletes is ridiculous to the point of almost being embarrasing. My mom's boss even gave her time off to help me get around and deal with what needs to be taken care of. Part of this amazing support has been people I've never met in my entire life calling me to share their own stories and give me hope and answer questions that only someone who's gone through it before can answer. I know that I've got a lot of work ahead of me. Some serious chemotherapy, a couple good-sized chunks of liver to be removed. But, like that motto I've adopted for triathlon, "I will run, with endurance, the race that is set before me."



I will continue to update my blog and I will be brutally honest in my experiences going forward. 


 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Unexpected change of events

This blog is going to be a deep one so strap on your hip waders. 

As I prepared for Ironman Arizona, #8 on my way to 12 finishes towards Kona I had a most embarrassing evening. On the morning of Wednesday November 5th I had so much gas that at 4am I had go to a local emergency room to try and get relief. They x-rayed me and the doctor retuned with his diagnosis. "You've got a LOT of poop in there. After trying their usual methods they sent me home with a pain pill and a slippery drink. I went home and took them and awaited relief.

Alas, it did not come. So at 2pm I made my way back to the ER almost unable to drive from pain. As I half collapsed into the triage nurse's chair I explained that I was there because "I just can't poop." It's funny because in Canada, having essentially free health care, we are constantly reminded by the media that the ER is not a clinic for general complaints. But because there is no punishment for using it as such there is rampant abuse. I was begging the nurse to see that I really needed to be there and fortunately she believed me and I got back in fairly quickly. 

After looking at my morning x-ray they decided to upgrade me to a CT scan. This showed that now not only was I full of poo but in fact that I had a full blockage. So an emergent scope of my bowels was scheduled for the next morning. To deal with the pain I was given morphine but this had NO impact on my pain. They decided to try dilaudid and THAT did the trick. They put me on a pump where I could dose myself only every 5 minutes but it tracked how often I tried. In the first 10 minutes I made 19 attempts, but after that it became much less and my eyes began to cross and I felt muuuuuuuuch better. 

I was admitted and the attack of the nursing students commenced. These cute student nurses are so committed to learning and doing everything right that sometimes they're pretty easy to mess with. I quickly learned that one of the questions I was going to be asked a lot was whether I wore hearing aids. Eventually I started responding, "huh?" I would do this 3 or 4 times until I was satisfied that the supervising nurse was laughing hard enough and then I'd allow them to move on. They got me admitted to a ward and I laid there most of the night trying to ignore my pain and tapping away on my pain button like an old-timey train engineer sending our morse code. 



In the morning I was wheeled down and my scope was done. This is done under anesthesia and when I woke up I looked back at the doc and asked, "so, did you get it all out?" He just glared at me. I'm no Jerry Seinfeld but I'm fairly sharp at 7am and that should have at least garnered a smirk... but nothing. I told him I was waiting to see a smile and he replied, "no smile." This was a bit off putting. He returned with a photo and explained they had found a worrying mass that had completely blocked my colon. This was a bummer, so to speak.

I was put in an ambulance and transported across town to another hospital where they could try and open my colon with a stent. I was sedated but not put under and this time the doctor talked me through the entire procedure. I could feel and hear almost everything but wasn't in pain. He explained that the procedure had failed and now I'd be returning to the first hospital for emergency surgery. So around 2pm I was placed back in an ambulance and returned to the Sturgeon and at 9pm was put under for bowel surgery. Just around 48 hours after first experiencing symptoms. 


When I woke up from the surgery I was a bit panicked and very sore. I knew things were going to be tough and I was right. I had had a section of my colon resected (I think that's the right word) and along with it the lymph nodes and blood vessels. They had also seen a few worrisome spots on my liver and one of these was able to be biopsied during the original procedure and the surgeon explained it "felt like cancer." The worst part was not the surgery pain as much as the friggin hoses. I had one taped to my nose that suctioned me non stop from my stomach. I also had an oxygen tube in, so 2 tubes in 1 nostril and 1 in the other. Not so comfy. This was in addition to the IV line hooked into my arm and the almost constant checking of my vital signs. 

It's funny. A hospital is the least restful place when you need the most rest. After a major surgery you'd like some quiet but oh no.


The sounds of a hospital ward are incredible. Guests yakking, patients puking, alarms sounding and all the while...the call buttons. Those nurse call buttons will be the reason for someone's demise. They make a door bell sound down the entire ward every time one of them was pressed and one of them is almost always pressed. Why can't they just turn on a light and after a period of time if a nurse hasn't acknowledged it THEN it makes a noise! Come on people! Not rocket science! 

The NG tube (stomach sucker) is the thing that endured. Just the absolute worst. It sits in your throat and rubs you every time you swallow. And believe me, you swallow a lot. Also, the constant flow of oxygen really lays a beating on your respiratory system because you get SO dry. I was allowed ice chips and they were my life saver. My tongue had gotten so dry I couldn't even say "ice chips" any more. This lasted a couple of day but this was when my friends and family took over. 

The next day the surgeon came and spoke with me and explained that the initial biopsy had come back and was in fact a cancer. They didn't know what kind yet, the more detailed biopsy would give that info but it was go time for me. I was ready to fight, I'd take it on alone if I had to but am absolutely blown away by the fact that I will not have to "go it alone."

I've written before about how we can go through life and sometimes not realize the impact we leave behind. That will not happen again. As I sit here writing this, less than 3 days after being diagnosed with cancer, my amazing friends and family have gotten my air ducts cleaned so I come home to a clean environment, our fridge and freezer are full of meals to the point that my wife has resorted to using the backyard snow to keep some of our food. A fund, set up to help offset some of our costs associated with this fight has over $5000 in it, and most importantly, I have received messages of support from all over the world and from people I've met from age zero to 33. Also, the hockey officials I work with will be sporting these decals on their helmets in support. ALREADY!!!



I could never, in a million years, guessed I had this many people that cared enough about me and my family to be so generous in so many ways. The bummer is now I have to fulfill my end of the deal and that is to beat cancer, a call to battle I will lead from the front. They say the biggest factors affecting success will be my age, health and support. With my Ironman training and devilish youth I've got 2 of the 3 nailed down. And now I know #3 will be taken care of as well. I will gladly ride into battle on the shoulders of my friends and family. 

I won't be able to start any active treatment until 4-6 weeks after this surgery to make sure I'm in the best health possible but I'll keep you along for the ride as I make this little side journey on the way to Kona. 



Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Hoka One One Clifton Review

When I first started running and getting into triathlon I read the magazines and the big push at that time was to go minimalist or barefoot. I got on board and ran in shoes that were little more than foot covers. I did a few Ironman races in them but was never comfortable running. Minimalist running shoes certainly have their place but the feet of a Clydesdale runner is not one of them.

A teammate of mine who had had severe hip pain was wearing a pair of absolutely horrendous looking shoes but swore that they had extended his running career by years. I asked what they were and the told me they were Hoka One Ones. They came in offensive colours and the overly thick, cushioned sole were borderline eye sores. However, I decided to give them a try because anyone over 250 lbs that races in a one-piece spandex suit is obviously not overly concerned about how they look.

The difference these shoes made in my running were instant. I started shaving minutes off of my runs and feeling great while I was running. My first two pairs of Hokas were Tarmac Stinsons and I loved them. My first half marathon I ran in them I didn't have to walk a single step. This was a huge achievement for me and is still a watershed moment in my endurance racing career.

When I went to replace my last pair of shoes I discovered that they had discontinued the model that I liked. This always seems to happen to me but I move on and it seems to work out.

The new model I decided to try were the Cliftons. These appeared to be different than the Hokas I had used in the past. Rather than the elastic laces they had traditional tie up laces. The colour scheme was much more "normal" than the previous Hokas I have owned and the biggest difference was the weight. These Cliftons feel about half of the weight of the older models. My greatest concern was that in making them lighter they had reduced the cushioning to the point where they lost the Hoka advantage.



I have run in the Cliftons for about a month now and am happy to report they are everything the heavier Hokas were at a much lighter weight. My greatest complaint about them is the laces. It seems to me that part of the Hoka advantage was the ability for the shoe to adapt to the foot expanding as it struck the ground. The traditional laces didn't allow for this expansion and I felt some tightness across the forefoot but I fixed this quickly with a pair of elastic laces.

The positives of the Cliftons are everything else:
- They look better than some of the earlier models.
- They feel much lighter when running
- My heel feels more locked in than the previous models

The only thing that I'm waiting to see is if the lighter material will be as durable as the heavier models.

Overall I would say the Hoka One One Cliftons are an excellent shoe for bigger runners and show some wonderful technological improvements from the original Hokas.

Friday, 26 September 2014

We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard

People often ask me why I do the things I do. Usually it's phrased, "why the hell would you do that?" It's not that Ironman is particularly fun, in fact, sometimes it's downright miserable. It's so much bigger than just having a good time, it's about finding out about yourself. Cheesy hey?

Ironman Los Cabos. The hardest race I've done to date.
When, in 2008, my friend and coach Alli and her now husband John first told Kim and I they were taking us to the mountains to go climbing we both just kind of laughed. It turns out John and Alli knew more about Kim and me than we did. We bouldered up some sketchy slopes, came down some scree and by the end of the day we had reached the top of a small mountain and returned back to the base. Our bodies were no different at the end of the day than they were at the start (save for some new scratches and bruises), however, the way we viewed our bodies was completely changed.

We walked a little taller and a little more confidently. We were physically identical to the day before but now we had climbed a mountain. This is the reason you challenge yourself. You have no idea what you're capable of until you go out and try it. Whether it's an endurance race or just getting into an exercise program, your limits are mostly mental.

I think what's most impressive about taking on endurance racing is the fact that the time and dedication required to compete in these events is only worth it if you are intrinsically motivated. At the average Ironman race there are somewhere around 2300 or more racers. Of these, something like 12 pros will win money and 50 people will earn a coveted spot in the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. And what's even crazier is that only about 300 people have a reasonable shot at one of those Kona spots. So 2000 people train hundreds of hours, spend thousands of dollars and endure 10-17 hours of brutal exercise with no hope or dreams of any prize or reward.  But the really cool thing is that it's worth it.

Sub 12 at 250lbs. Unreal day.
The first Ironman was thrown together from three different races to prove if swimmers, cyclists or runners were the best athletes. And although they could have never guessed what they were starting when they began the swim that day the tag line they used on the first registration form has endured as the Ironspirit: Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!

But it doesn't have to be Ironman. My first half marathon was just as big an achievement at the time. I was 300lbs and had no business being on the course. In fact, that day I came dead last ... but I did it. The mental fortitude to finish something that really sucks is not something that can be acquired without pushing yourself. It's not given to you, it's earned. 

I believe the courage that you gain from attempting something so tough is an incredibly transferable skill. Whether it's changing jobs when you're comfortable or going back to school to upgrade your education, diving into something and just doing it changes you. So just go out there and show yourself how amazing you really are!


Saturday, 20 September 2014

I like my yoga instructors weird and my Mexican food joints sketchy!

It's funny, certain things are just better in specific contexts. This occurred to me as I was taking a yoga class. The lady leading the class was obviously very well trained but something was missing. As she gave the instructions she seemed just a little too "with it." Her eyes were focused, her speech was clear and her outlook on life was too well adjusted. In order for me to really connect with yoga I need an instructor that has a slight waver in her voice and eyes that are maybe just a touch crossed. They also need to see the beauty in EVERYTHING. I mean everything, like how wonderful it is that the snow is coming down faster than you can shovel it. Despite the fact that it wreaks havoc on the road system and kills off old people with heart attacks she just sees a white blanket of awesome.

This got me thinking about other things that need to be a certain way in order to be enjoyed properly. The next obvious one to me is Mexican restaurants. Living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada means finding decent Mexican food is next to impossible; partly because our health inspectors are so diligent. When we make our biennial trip to Disneyland one of our favourite things to do on the San Diego leg of the trip is venture into the scary parts of town and get a plate of sloppy deliciousness. A few of the things we are looking for when sizing up a restaurant are:
1) The parking lot has to be full of cars that may or may not be abandoned.
2) The sign out front should be in some form of disrepair. Either sun-bleached or missing letters, whichever.
3) The windows should be barred, and
4) the menu should be so poorly designed that it's almost unreadable and you just tell them what you want and they give you a price.

I have yet to be disappointed by a meal from a scary Mexican joint. This is also why Chipotle will never see my shadow, too nice.

Barbers! I want you to have an accent thicker than scum on a Louisiana swamp. If my half of the conversation isn't mostly awkward laughing at what I think you may or may not have said then I DON'T WANT YOU TOUCHING MY HAIR!

Baristas! You'd better be pierced or tatted! If you don't look like something from out of this world than how can I expect your coffee to taste out of this world? I need to know that every quarter I drop in your tip cup is one step closer to bigger ear holes or a tattoo about your personal journey.

Tow Truck Drivers! If you pull up to help me with my car you'd better be grizzled. In any other situation you're the type of guy I wouldn't want to share a ride with, or probably even a conversation, but in this instance you're perfect! The larger and hairier the better!

If you have any more please post them in the comments section!









Sunday, 14 September 2014

Travelling to a Race. Logistics

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE RACE DAY: You are required to be at an Ironman race two days prior to race day. 2 days prior you register for the race, this means you go to a pavilion of some kind and wait in line. A long line depending on what time you arrive. At the start they will have you sign away your life and provide contact info for you and your loved ones. Then you'll usually get a shoe bag with your bib numbers, your stickers, your transition bags, a race poster, some flyers for some local businesses and often some other goodies. Then you'll get the all-important wrist band. Don't screw this up. Your wrist band is your VIP ticket to everything. The dinner, transition and most importantly the start line! After getting your wrist band you'll go over and get your timing chip which they'll scan to make sure it says your name on the screen and then you're off...... straight into the merchandise tent.

If this is your first time at Ironman take a deep breath before walking into the merchandise tent. You are going to want to buy everything, and rightly so. It is just too cool and man have you worked hard to be here. But just wait, most of the things you see on the shelves will take on a new form on the day after the race. Because the day after the race the jackets, shirts, hats, towels, trailer hitch covers, water bottles and assorted voodoo dolls will all have the word "finisher" added to them. THAT is what you want to buy.

After registration it will usually be around noon or so and you'll want to have something to do to kill some time before that evening's dinner. This is a great opportunity to see what the town has to offer. In Mexico I hung out on the beach, in Coeur d'Alene I caught a movie and in Penticton Canada we took the kids cherry picking. Your mission should be to find something that is low activity and that will take your mind off of the big event. If you let it, it can consume you and make you a wreck. The beach and the orchard were fun but in my opinion a movie is the perfect way to kill time before a race. You get to sit in a quiet, air conditioned room and let a movie take your mind somewhere away from the craziness of racing.

Kelland and Calliah cherry picking in Penticton

Two nights out there is a welcome dinner. This dinner can be in any of a few locations. I've had it in a convention hall, a huge tent, but the most amazing one was on the beach in Los Cabos. Typically they serve salads, buns, pasta and chicken breast. It's usually decent but nothing to write home about. Los Cabos was amazing. The food was beautifully seasoned and presented, the ambiance was spectacular and the setting was stunning. As we were getting our dinner the sun set over the Pacific, pretty cool.

Los Cabos welcome dinner. Not too shabby.


The day before the race you are required to check in your bike and turn in your two transition bags. This is necessary as doing it on race day would be an absolute nightmare. Imagine 2000+ people trying to rack their bikes, put their bags in numerical order, put on their wetsuits and get in the water all before 7am. NOT A CHANCE!!! Make sure that you read your instructions carefully. You bags will all be a different colour and will be place accordingly. So if you put your cycling shoes and helmet in the wrong bag you may come out of the water and grab a bag with running shoes and a hat. Not cool, my buddy Taylor Byars made this mistake in Mexico but luckily caught it race morning.

Bike check-in with Calliah at Ironman Canada 2012
Once you check in your bike and bags, take a practice trip from the swim exit to where your bag will be and then to your bike so you are familiar with the route.
Just some of the bike racks at Ironman Canada. Yikes!


THINGS TO THINK ABOUT ON RACE DAY:  On race day you're probably going to be up early. Wear warm clothes to the race but I would pick some that if they went missing you wouldn't be hearbroken. There are a couple thousand people racing and they all have bags of stuff. Also, after the race when the adrenaline wears off it's not uncommon to be cold and get the shakes so if you've got warm clothes you can put them back on.

You will also have two other bags to bring on race day morning. These are your special needs bags. You can put whatever you want in these bags and will have access to one of them at the half way point of the run and the other at the half way point of the bike.  For the bike some people will put extra CO2 and tubes in the bag, other people will put the gels or bars that they like if they're not the ones being offered by the race. I don't use a bike bag at all but may in the future. For the run I put a pair of dry socks in the bag and if my family's with me my wife usually puts a note in it for me to read. Fortunately my stomach does well with pretty much any fuel but if you're particular about your nutrition you may also want to put some bars and gels in the run bag too. Right after you've turned in your bags go immediately to your bike and check the tires. If something has happened to them over night you've got plenty of time now to get them fixed and filled. There will be a LONG line for the pumps so you'll want to take care of this first.

Bring a decent sized backpack. This is especially important if you're travelling alone. It's so handy after the race to be able to pack the bulk of your things into a backpack and get your bike back to your hotel or vehicle on your back rather than in the four or five bags that Ironman will give you. If you're lucky enough to have people with you, Ironsherpas, they are so great at getting your things back to the hotel and I hope everyone that's helped me at a race knows just how much I appreciate it.

If you are lucky enough to have family or friends with you at an Ironman race they need to know that they will have limited access to you in the finish area and they may have to wait a while for you. My wife has never actually gotten close enough to the finish line at an Ironman race to actually see me finish.  She says the seats at the finish line fill up early!  You'll be able to go out and see them once you're done, but only athletes and race staff are allowed in the finish area. This is because there just isn't enough room for people to bring guests.

My nephew Aiden outside the security fence.
After the race they take amazing care of you. Once you cross the finish line you get your medal, your finisher's shirt and usually a hat. You also get a very nice volunteer. They're going to stay with you and hold your things while you get a picture taken. They get you food and water and whatever else you'd like. They'll take you to the medical tent if you need it or to the massage tent if that suits you. It is absolutely the coolest thing to be treated this way. However, this entire time your loved ones are waiting outside for you. I would suggest that you go out and give them a quick minute of your time if you can physically do it, let most of them get on their way, and then return to the finish area to eat and rehydrate a bit.  My wife tries to speed up this process by bringing me the bottle of whatever alcohol I've packed and a GIANT box of Chinese food.  Not the best for hydration but tasty!

Enjoying my champagne that I brought back from France just for this moment. Ironman Canada 2010.
 Otherwise, it could be an hour or more before you finally make your way out of the finish area. At this point you're going to need to retrieve your bike and your transition bags. You prove these things are yours with your athlete's wristband that has your number on it that corresponds to your bags and your bike. If you are incapable of getting your things, don't worry, they give you a claim ticket so that someone you trust, or a kind-hearted stranger if you're alone, can get your things for you. After this you can finally make your way back to your hotel or vehicle.

THE DAYS AFTER: The sleep after an Ironman should be one of the deepest, greatest sleeps of your life. It typically isn't. Your body is in shock, your muscles are angry and the general discomfort makes it tough at best. That's ok! Time to go and buy that finisher's gear! Get a good breakfast in you and try and get down to the merchandise area early. It will usually open at 7am and there is going to be a line when you get there. If you're like me, you'll be in luck. Most finishers aren't combing the racks looking for XXL stuff. Whatever you do, grab the stuff you think you might want and don't set it down until you've decided for sure you're putting it back. Certain items, like jackets, go quickly and after the race people will be online begging for one. Get yourself something nice, you've earned it.

Now, if you're travelling by air, remember that you're going to need to break down your bike and pack everything you brought with you (don't forget to give away the CO2 you just bought). You probably won't want to schedule an early morning, or even noon flight, unless you're planning on being a fairly fast finisher and getting your stuff packed the night before. I wouldn't plan on doing much else the day after. Take time to eat, relax and relive your race story to anyone that will listen. To many people you've just become a hero, take a week and bask in that.

I hope this has provided any Ironvirgins a look at what their prep will look like for their first journey into long distance tri. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

The Indoor Ironman: Training Long Distance in Canada

It is September 7th and here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada it is snowing. This means that of the past 12 months we have only had 3 months where it did not snow.

To facilitate my goal of getting to 12 Ironman finishes as quickly as possible, I essentially don't have an "off-season" when it comes to triathlon training. A number of people have asked how I manage to train for these distances almost entirely indoors. This means whether it's 30 above or 30 below I have to get my runs, rides, and swims in and that means trainers and treadmills. Some people might find this to be tedious and boring but there are definitely some benefits to indoor training. The best is that the commute to my gym is 30 seconds!


SEE! Not exaggerating.


Swimming is essentially not an issue. No matter where you swim in the world, pool swims are pool swims. It would be super cool to be able to swim open water with more frequency but when you live a 12 hour drive from the ocean and your lakes are too cold to swim in for the bulk of the year it's just not in the cards. Besides, one of the coolest experiences is swimming in one of glass walled pools in the middle of a blizzard. The picture doesn't do the beauty of it justice. It's like being in the middle of a snow globe.

One of my local pools. Swimming in a snow storm is really cool.


Running and cycling is a whole different ball game. One of the things I've said about running is that the biggest difference between outside and running inside is that when you're outside and you get tired, you still have to chug your way back to where you started. But when you're on a treadmill it is very easy to just press the stop button and be done with the training session. This is the biggest downside to treadmill training, it's just SO easy to quit. However, treadmill training has its own positive side too; the ability to control your environment is a huge benefit to treadmill training. For example, on days when you're supposed to train hills it can be difficult to find a hill in your city that exactly meets the specifications on your program. Additionally, pacing your run is easy. It is tough to accidentally slow down on a treadmill. If you do you'll end up punching a hole in the wall behind you and that's just bad form.

While it may not be the ideal way to train for a marathon, the treadmill makes for a nice alternative to hypothermia and frost bite. Plus, the amount your gait changes by trying to run on icy sidewalks makes it impractical for long distance run training in my opinion.

This is the front street of my house in April. 1 month before Ironman Texas.



As for cycling, there are a great many benefits to cycling indoors. One of my (and my wife's) favourite parts of indoor cycling is that there is no traffic to contend with. With Edmonton being under snow or covered in gravel for 8 months a year it is tough to get cyclists and drivers to get on the same page. This causes some hairy moments and just adds a dimension to training that I don't care for. That being said, cycling on the open highway is absolutely exhilarating and beautiful, but the months that are nice enough to do this are few.

 
The view from the hill where I do my hill repeats. Not too shabby.
As you can see, when the weather permits, my city is beautiful and I do try and take advantage. One thing that is exceedingly tough to simulate on a trainer is hills. There's nothing quite like suffering up a long steep incline that just making your trainer hard to push doesn't match. That being said, when you're on a trainer there is no coasting. To keep the wheels turning you have to keep your legs moving and there's a constant tension on the crank that keeps your legs burning throughout the entire workout. Additionally, city riding means you're constantly stopping at lights and having to take your mind off of your tempo to watch out for vehicles and other hazards that don't exist in the basement. Funny story though, you need to make sure that you completely lock your bike into the trainer. On one of my early trainer rides I hadn't locked it in quite right and when I stood to do a climb my tire dropped down, hit the floor and rocketed me into my couch. My wide heard that commotion and yelled down to find out what had happened and I had to explain that I had just crashed my stationary bike.

I would definitely recommend, if you're going to start training for Ironman indoors you do a few things for yourself. The first would be to set up your own "Pain Cave." A treadmill and bike trainer in your basement that you can get set up as quickly as possible. The more effort it will take to start a workout, the less likely you are to do your workout.  I would also invest in a good quality trainer, if you intend to spend any amount of time on it it's going to be well worth the money to get a quieter trainer with tension you can adjust from your handlebars rather than having to get off and adjust the tension at the trainer itself. My Tacx Flow trainer has served me very well. I've only had to do some very small repairs to the bolts on the trainer but otherwise it has functioned perfectly. Getting a bike trainer versus a spin bike is a much better option in my opinion. the difference between riding your actual bike and a spin bike can be quite great and means the race-specific training benefit is not as great on a spin bike.

I started training in 2009 and just hit 5000 miles (8000 Km) on my bike trainer.
One of the other things I've found helpful is to keep myself surrounded by motivation. In Texas I saw a sign that said, "Run the race that is set before you." I absolutely loved this and when I got home I had my wife look on the internet to see what it would cost to get this made into a wall decal. After a quick search it turns out this if from a Biblical verse and a number of people on Etsy have it available. We contacted a nice lady and she made it to our specs and I'm so happy to have it above me when I train. I'm not religious even a little bit, I just think the sentiment is wonderful. I also have my finisher photos and medals from my 7 Ironman races and they're a nice constant reminder of why I'm suffering in the basement a couple of hours a day.


The medals from my 7 Ironman races are nearby

The final thing you're going to need in your Pain Cave is entertainment. You're not going to last long on your bike without something to take your mind off of the pain. A nice 60" TV does the trick for me. Find a collection of movies or a box set of a TV show that you want to catch up on and go to town. I like to play little games while I'm riding; one of my favorites is a 5 minute high tempo effort whenever my Edmonton Oilers score. It's just a little thing but it adds a dimension of unpredictability to the workout and takes your mind off of that constant drone.


PRO TIP 1: Feed off of the broken dreams of your fellow man. It sounds cruel but unfortunately most people that decide to start an intensive training program don't follow through with it. Kijiji is a great place to find a nice treadmill at a price that will make you smile. When I picked mine up it was still in the box. The lady that had purchased it wanted to get in shape but just didn't follow through.

PRO TIP 2: Get a yoga mat to put under your bike. This has two benefits: 1) The block you put your front wheel into will not slip and slide around. 2) The sweat you produce doesn't end up on your floor.

I hope any hopeful Arctic Ironmen like me have found this a little bit useful. If you have any comments or questions please don't hesitate to fire me an email. Also, please give me a follow on Twitter @trifattytri

Friday, 1 August 2014

Ironman Zurich: Bring Cash

Ironman number 7 was taking me across an ocean to race for the first time. I was extremely excited to be racing in Europe and super happy to have my mom (Iron Sherpa) joining me. Not so excited about the 3:40 am alarm on Thursday morning, but this is the price of doing cool stuff. We arrived at the airport and checked in with plenty of time to get on our flight to Toronto. After hanging out in the lounge we took the first boarding call into our business class seats. I had enough points to go round trip business and my amazing Uncle Bill was cool enough to hook mom up with points so she could join me. 

The first leg was the bumpiest I've ever had. So much so that the flight attendants had to stop service for 40 minutes waiting for better conditions.



From Toronto mom and I were on different flights. I was direct to Zürich and she was via Frankfurt. This was a NEAT experience. In business class over the Atlantic you get a pod, not a seat. This can fold flat to a bed or just be adjusted any way you like to get comfortable. It was a little strange taking off facing at a 45 degree angle but I dealt with it.




I arrived in Zürich at 8am on Friday having only managed 2 hours sleep on the plane and made my way to Starbucks. I ordered my 1/2 sweet fat free caramel macchiato and the barista told me, "9 francs 40." Stunned, I handed him my money and tucked away my change. I had just paid $11 CAD for my coffee. Welcome to Zürich. I sat near the arrivals board and waiting for mom's flight. It was late so I kept a closer eye. Then it popped up red and displayed, "Diverted." What the hell? I made my way to an internet terminal and checked out Lufthansa's site and they said it was canceled. I jumped on Facebook hoping mom would be logged in and sure enough she was. Apparently there was a problem with the pressurization system and so, nearly in Zürich, they turned back because this is Lufthansa's main hub and it was easier to deal with there. Most people took it in stride but one man was evidently quite upset at the decision. Mom doesn't speak German but anger is an international language.

Sadly I hit a curb with my cart and spilt $4 worth of coffee, but it was still yummy.

We agreed to meet up at the hotel so I was on my own to check in to the race and do the first bit of site seeing. It was really interesting to do something so familiar but in a place where you don't speak the language. The signs don't make sense, the instructions don't make sense and the conversations around you are just gibberish. I actually enjoyed the challenge of navigating the registration process in bits of German and charades. I got my package and wandered around the expo. At one of the tents I walked up to a vendor selling some kind of new fangled energy drink and asked, "vas is das?" (What is this?) Apparently this was convincing enough that he went into a 5 minute pitch about the product ENTIRELY IN GERMAN. I just stood there and listened intently and confused. I don't speak German, but I do know people and I read his signals loud and clear. When he made a point about the product I looked impressed, when he seemed inquisitive about my interest I looked him in the eye and nodded and when he got excited I raised my eyebrows and smiled in approval. At the end he handed me a sample of what turned out to be cow colostrum, I downed it, nodded a little, said "Danke. Auf Wiedersehen" Turned and walked away. I'm still convinced he thinks I grasped every word.I also took a lung test at one of the booths and if you hit a certain level you got a free t-shirt so I figured, "what the hell." I blew into the machine and it turns out I have the lung power of a pro athlete, if only I could get the body of one I might be good at this sport.

Hercules Hercules
I met mom back at the hotel and after a quick change it was time to head back to the race area for the welcome dinner. This was our first real intro into the ways of European Ironman. The dinner was traditional pasta and salad but the service was anything but what I was used to. In North America, you line up at a table, grab a plate and as you make your way down the buffet line you take your food and move on to the dining area. In Zürich, there was a row of servers at a counter and you had to navigate your way through a mosh pit to get to the front. You handed them a plate and they handed you back your pasta. At first our Canadianness held us back but eventually our stomachs took over and we began shoving our way to the front. The main problem was that the plates were being guarded by mobbed up Spaniards and Germans who were handing them off to their friends and preventing others from getting to them. We finally broke through the service area and made our way to a table where we sat with two very nice British gents. We relayed how shocked we were about how dinner was conducted and he said with a sneer, "Welcome to Europe. That's how they queue on the continent." He told us about a ski trip he had taken to Whistler and that one of his fondest memories was how well people lined up at the lifts. Apparently in Europe the lines are always a battle royale.

Nice orderly line up

Ring leaders at the front

Completely exhausted we made our way back to the hotel. The 8 hour time change was taking its toll and we needed sleep. In retrospect it was a little silly to plan to arrive half way across the world 48 hours prior to racing but it was not done without ample consideration. The initial plan was to see London for 4 days prior to moving down to Zürich but after realizing this would mean no drinking in the pubs this was quickly changed. PRIORITIES! 

Mom is so pretty
We slept for 13 hours and rolled out of bed at 11am. Just in time to catch the remainder of the hotel breakfast. We had prepaid it so we'd better eat. It was only 16 CHF/person/day. So $19ish CAD, for toast, coffee, juice and some scrambled eggs. ZÜRICH!!! We had to take the tram to the race area to check my bike in for the following day. We asked at the front desk about taking a bike on transit. The clerk told us it was no problem, you just have to buy the bike a ticket as well. So the next day we trundled off down the road, bike in tow and got to the ticket machine. For the low price of 8.40CHF or about $10 CAD you can add a bike to your ticket. You still have to pay your own ticket. 



Check in was fairly similar to North America. The biggest difference I noticed was that you have to wear your helmet and bib number when you check in. I was looking around at all these gomers with their helmets buckled up and standing in line and wondering what was so dangerous about standing around. That was until a tall Swiss fellow with a thick accent told me, "please poot on and fasten zee helmet for zee inspection." Something about that accent you just don't argue with. We got the bags and bike tucked away and headed back into the main part of town in search of Chinese food. The last few races it has become tradition that I eat P F Chang's the night before but since there is no P F Changstein's to be found in Zürich we opted for Chopstick. They had average reviews on Trip Advisor so we thought we'd give to a shot. We weren't expecting a cheap meal, that doesn't exist here, but we weren't looking to break the bank either. In response to the struggle to decide what we should pay for a meal I coined a new phrase, Züreasonable: A price for a good or service that would be exorbitant in a regular market, but is acceptable within Zürich. 

Mmmmm, deep fried cabbage

It had so much promise, so much
For an appetizer we ordered a spring roll each, which was actually much larger than a typical North American spring roll. When this came it looked alright but when we cut into it, it was just cabbage dipped in batter and fried. Oh well, can't win them all. The main course would save the day; chicken chow mein and beef with chutes and pods. The chow mein was an underwhelming plate of noodles whose only flavour was derived from the chili oil and soy sauce that WE added. The beef looked amazing however. Caramelized and darkened with what looked like a Szechuan seasoning. Looks can be deceiving, the meat was tender but lifeless and again was only slightly improved by a considerable dose of chili and soy. Now what would be a fair price for an appetizer, two plates of Chinese food, 1 tap water and 1 iced tea? 51.50CHF or about $62 CAD? ZÜRICH!!! 

It's a bargain at half the price
No matter, we weren't on a cuisine tour, I was here to race. Once back at the hotel I asked the girl at the front desk to book me a taxi for the morning so I wouldn't have to worry about transit. My alarm went off at 4:45 am but as is typical I was already laying there with my eyes open. A mixture of nerves and excitement propelled me out of bed and downstairs for a light breakfast. In typical Swiss fashion my taxi arrived exactly on time and quickly got me to the race site. During the 20 minute ride I quickly watched the meter click over. By the time the ride was over it read exactly 50.00CHF. I asked what that would be in Euros as that was all I had with me. This swindler told me, "is same." I double checked that what he was saying was that in fact it was 50 Euro OR Francs, no difference. He said yeah. This made this cab ride go from $60 to $80. I handed the driver 60 € and he gave me back 10 Francs in change. He even managed to screw me on the change. ZÜRICH!!!

Finally the race:

Swim: Goal 1:10, Actual 1:23:53
The swim in Zürich is odd. It's 2 loops but they're different. The first is a larger rectangular loop and the second is a triangular loop inside the first loop. In between you exit the water, run across a piece of land and jump back in. Kinda fun actually. I felt absolutely spectacular in the swim. My strokes were good, my breathing was smooth and I had open water to myself almost the entire time. By all accounts this was my best open water experience ever. Part of this I attribute to the fact that the organizers so,ot the swimmers into two groups. 1 that expected to finish under 1:10 and another that expected to finish over. As I swam 1:12 in Texas 10 weeks ago I opted to go at the very end of the first group. Perfect decision, no one swimming over me, people ahead knew how to navigate, great decision. So why was I 13 minutes slower than my goal? I found out afterwards that Lake Zürich has a current. The river that it feeds draws the water across the lake at a fair pace and for the crossing section of the rectangle and the entire hypotenuse section of the triangle you are fighting the current. The pro times are even 5+ minutes slower so I felt a little better.

Bike: Goal 6:00, Actual 6:44:25
Great transition into the bike, gear on and out the door in just over 7 minutes. The bike is a 2 loop epic bastard of a course. The first 30km of the ride are flat and fast and build your confidence. Then the hills start. There are 4 real climbs per loop. 2 long semi steep and 2 shorter very steep and they sap your will to live. I was really glad I had trained my hills as much as I had because they were tough here.

I'm sure this would have been a different day if I didn't have as much experience as I do now. Having been in some tough situations on the bike in the past I knew that I just needed to keep my legs moving and get up the hills so I could rest on the way down. For the most part the downhills were a fairly nice grade that allowed you to get some speed and recover a little. One particular descent, however, was a lot of work in its own way. The hill started out with a spot that actually took my breath away. For about 250m the trees beside the road were thick and formed a canopy over the road. This caused a weird sensation where it got very dark and cold for a brief stretch before you emerged on the other side. This was also the start of the fastest descent on the course. On the first lap it was raining and I was in a tighter group of riders so I was a little quicker on the brakes and only hit 73.8km/hr (45.9mph). At the bottom of the hill there was a fairly tight right hand turn that required some hard braking so I was glad I had taken my bike in to Element to get my bike doctor Cam to beef up the brakes. (Thanks Cam! I made it!). By the bottom of the hill my legs were good but my arms were exhausted from braking and holding the bike still to avoid losing control. From here it was a 20km or so flat section back to town where you. Had to tackle heartbreak hill. This is the shorter STEEP section that you do at the end of each lap. This is the only place on the course with any real crowd support but it was needed. By the end of the hill you're standing on the pedals and just hoping you have enough power to get to the top. Back down a short hill and you do it all over again.

Looped courses can either be great or brutal depending on the type of day you're having. On a good day looped courses are awesome because you know where you are and can prepare for what's coming. On a bad day it's awful because every tough section you're reminding yourself, "I get to do this again. Yippee!" On a single loop course it's great because you only see everything once. On the second loop the rain had stopped so it was a little better for visibility and cornering which was nice. This meant that on the second time down the big hill I could tuck a little more and ride the brakes less, I thought. I was flying down the hill at 75.5km/hr (46.9mph) when ahead I could see the flashing blue lights of an ambulance and a course marshall indicating for us to slow down. I got on the brakes and as I passed I saw a man being placed on a spine board with all of his clothes cut off and he was badly cut up. Later on in the race I spoke with a Brit who witnessed it and he said the guy got a speed wobble and lost control at high speed. As he tumbled his helmet came off and when this guy got to him he was only semi-conscious. They ended up taking him by helicopter and as of this writing he was listed in serious but stable condition. I really hope it works out for this poor guy. Ironman is about proving what the human body can endure and he should be in good enough shape to have a fighting chance. I mercifully climbed off the bike and was overjoyed to find that I felt pretty good.

Run: Goal 6:00, Actual 6:07:53

Despite being absolutely wrecked on the bike course I was excited  to be on the run course. I knew I was going to finish the race because I had plenty of time, I just  needed to cover the 42.2km. Last race my feet were cramped up so badly that I could hardly walk so when I got off of my bike I was relieved to find my feet felt fantastic. I started out jogging a little bit but my calves weren't up to it so I walked a decent amount at the start. After about 5km, however, I started to feel much better. My legs had loosened a little and I was able to run probably 200m or more at a time. I didn't think the run course was as advertised though. It is described as pancake flat and it certainly isn't that. There are no big hills but there are a number of sections where you cross overpasses and other elevation changes that are fairly tricky. This came as a bit of a surprise but nothing that couldn't be conquered.

The course begins by heading along a lonely little section towards the outskirts of town before turning and heading back towards a busier part of the city. For the most part you are in treed areas or next to the lake so it's a nice place to be running; the section in town was fairly well supported but the fans in Europe are much different than you find in North America. In NA it's a party atmosphere anywhere there are fans. People dressed in funny costumes, signs held up with jokes or inspirational sayings, music blasting and it's a great feeling all over. In Europe endurance sports appears to be taken much more seriously. In fact, if a fan is cheering for you and you're walking they almost seem personally offended that you aren't putting in a better effort for them. The aid stations were also different. They didn't always offer everything at every station so from time to time my nutrition got a little messed up and towards the end of the first of my four laps I started to lose my gut. For the uninitiated this means you've done something your body doesn't like and you start to feel nauseous. If it gets away on you your race can be in jeopardy because you need to keep fuelling your muscles to continue performing at any level and if it gets bad enough you can start vomiting and dehydrate yourself to the point that you need to quit. Luckily, after adjusting my sugar and water intake I was able to get it back and keep going. 

I'm not sure if all Ironman races in Europe do this but in Zürich each competitor had their nation's flag on their race bib. This was awesome because it allowed you to see who you could talk to and who may have no idea what idea you're talking about. About half way through I met up with a great lady from the north shore of Lake Erie in Ontario. She works as a "higher up" at her school board in Ontario but started out as a lowly teacher like me so we chatted a while when she'd had enough she trotted  off and I just kept walking. I'm not sure why but about half way through the marathon I felt pretty good considering what I'd put myself through and I started running more and more. Each lap you go through a "lap control" station where they'd give you a different coloured wrist band and it was actually kind of fun adding a band each lap, it added a sense of accomplishment that's for sure.

By the time I was half way done the final lap I was down right jovial. I was smiling like a fool and making jokes with anyone that would listen. With about 2km left I caught Nancy from Lake Erie and wished her well. The finish area was quite different than North America also, they had cheerleaders. GORGEOUS, cheerleaders. Not to be outdone I decided to show them my dance moves as well and this was well received by the crowd. After a brief dance with one of these beauties I trotted across the finish line. This was where I noted another distinct difference from North America, at home you are given a volunteer who takes care of you at the finish; they wrap you in a blanket, hold your stuff when photos are taken, get you food and only when they're sure you're fine do they return to receive another athlete. In this race, you were handed an emergency blanket and told where the food was. Fortunately I didn't need assistance but if I had I'm not sure what would have happened. They did have free beer at the finishers' area so I can't judge too harshly. This was a really nice local beer and more than welcome after 14 and a half hours of exercise. I found my mom and collected my stuff and headed for the tram. 

7 down, 5 to go
At the transfer point we got off and had McDonalds and then jumped back on. At this point I had a huge laugh. I had purposefully put myself away from the general population because after a race I have a certain aroma that is displeasing to most. I had hopped up on a shelf at the end of the tram car and apparently this local woman had claimed this as her birthright many moons ago because she sidled up right next to me. What ensued was both sad and hilarious. She started realizing that something wasn't right in the air but rather than move away she pulled out a body spray and coated her face in perfume and pushed her nose as close as she could to the cracked window above the ledge we were sitting on. Rather than move to a seat further down the train she endured this situation half way across town before she finally got to her stop. It was all my mom and I could do to not bust a gut laughing. After this I was actually feeling pretty good so I broke down my bike and got it packed away which was nice because hotel rooms in Europe are, let's say, economical in their space. 

Sorry lady but you sat by me
Little cramped
I try to take a couple of lessons from every race and this was no exception. The biggest thing I learned was appreciation. I had no idea how awesome the spectators were in North America, in Europe Ironman is a competition, in NA it's a celebration of the human spirit. I know it sounds cheesy but the difference is remarkable. I wish I could go back and hug the people that have yelled kind words when I was at my lowest (especially the cute girls). I had just become so accustomed to great crowds that I expected it. I won't make that mistake again. The second thing I will take away is how much I've improved. Despite the fact  that I felt completely wiped on the bike course I turned in a time that was alright. It wasn't outstanding by any stretch but it was faster than a few races where I actually felt better about my performance. I'm really glad I took the opportunity to make this trip and experience a race outside of North America. It was cool to see how things are done here and experience them first hand. That being said, I don't think I'll be back any time soon. Between the cost and the time change adjustment it was definitely taxing and with so many great races in North America I don't need to stray too far from home. Thanks for reading and auf wiedersehen!