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