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How Hard Can A Triathlon Be, Said No One, Ever

July 9, 2013 7 comments

Taken in isolation, a 1500 meter swim isn’t hard. A 37 km bike ride is certainly not daunting. And a 10 km run? Please, I could do that in my sleep. Backwards.

So entering my first Olympic distance triathlon, I told myself, was nothing to write home about. (Sorry about that, mom.) It would be an interesting experiment, a way to celebrate my year of finally learning how to swim, Phelps style. (Because in my mind’s eye I swim just like him.) It would be – and I really thought this – easy.

IMG_1843

Get. This. Wetsuit. Off. Where is that cord?!

And what better place to spend a few hours splashing around than Squamish? Fresh from the running Whistler Half Marathon in early June, I put the Squamish Triathlon on my race calendar for early July, enabling me to wallow away the remainder of summer nights reliving my triumph over copious glasses of Pinot Grigio, until it was time to cheer on my (crazy dedicated) friend Chrissy and her (crazy dedicated) buddy Steph in the #Ironman late August. You know, a real triathlon. The big show. At which point the celebration would kick up a notch.

Typical me, I under-trained and paid the price. But you just never know until you try. So. Now I know.

Still, a very cool and gratifying experience, if heavy on set up time (and supposedly training time, who knew?). I balked when the website requested athletes be on site at 7 am despite a 9:30 am start, to set up transitions. My sleep requirements go way past the beauty, and verge on the sanity, so this threw me off. Unlike running races, there is no fall-out-of-bed-get-yo-ass-to-the-start.

And transitions remained a rather murky concept to me – what did I really need for each one? Towels, food, iPhone to text for help? I hated the thought of needing something I hadn’t thought to leave myself. What if I was bored out of my mind and craved music for my run? What if I needed a cheeseburger after the bike? Or a bed to rest in? What then?

I managed to figure it out by simply attaching myself to a couple that seriously looked the triathlete part (sculpted cheekbones and Oakley’s) and were so in love with each other that they didn’t notice me skulking around them the entire time. And beside them at each transition. Stalking has its advantages. I watched them hawk-eyed as they hung their bikes and carefully laid out a tiny towel on which to put their accessories. (Me: folded my beach towel to look tiny and placed socks and gels inside my shoes, just like the beautiful couple, then stealthily put my sandwich I’d prepared to the bottom of my bag before anyone noticed.)

There seemed to be a discrepancy as to wear a wetsuit or not, but when the charming ones donned theirs, I donned mine. I could use this duo in my everyday life. Decisions have never been so easy.

A fellow swimmer didn’t crack a smile when I asked him if he’d mind zipping me up – hard on my ego, but then those swim caps aren’t for everyone – but redeemed himself my giving me a few tips. And then I realized he was gay, so redemption all around! He encouraged me to get in that water and warm up so the start will be less biting, and to swim wide of the buoy markers to avoid the traffic jam. Noted.

My game plan was to hang back and swim wide of the chaos, in my own little world. And so I did, zigzagging myself towards buoys (sighting still not my strong point), and by the time I’d reached the second of the three turns, I started to get into my groove. Basically, just in time to get out of the water. Which would be the theme for the day.

So I made some mistakes. People flew out of transitions like they were on fire while I debated eating my Cliff bar. I had to stop and ask the crowd for directions on the bike, and asked a competitor, how many laps are we doing again? By the time I started the run (what were my words, in my sleep, backwards?), the relief I expected to feel (finally, my sport, this one I can do!) never came. Instead, just point me to the finish line please, I want this to be over.

That mouth is full of Cliff bar. Again.

That mouth is full of Cliff bar. Again.

And so with 1 km to go, and my legs finally beneath me and my stride lengthened at long last, I missed a pesky rock on the trail and took one on the chin. Literally. Sailed through the air and landed on my chin in front of two volunteers, shocking them out of their engaging conversation, in my best Jack Tripper imitation.

So there was that.

But also, there was this: Accomplishment. Pride. Sweat. Happiness. Triumph.

And the best part was that my two biggest cheerleaders, my girls (my oldest away with friends so MIA), were there every step of the way, and were more excited than myself when I finished.

Success, and love.

Still eating.

(Still eating.)

Cheerfully, The Answer is No.

June 5, 2013 6 comments

If ever there was a mother who didn’t desire her daughter to be a cheerleader, it is moi.

So naturally, my teenage daughter is hellbent on being one. With Naomi Wolf as my witness, I didn’t see this one coming. Either irony is beautiful, or else someone is playing a divine trick, I’m not sure which.

Call me judgemental, but I don't see many positive role models here.

Call me judgmental, but I don’t see many positive role models here, unless you’re aspiring to be a look-alike doll, or Barbie.

Note: this is a cheer club, not wave a pompom when the football team takes the field, cheerleading. The idea is they work on routines (at ridiculously inopportune times) and enter competitions (in the middle of nowhere). If anything, it is even slightly more pointless.

Nothing against cheerleading, except for the stereotype. And the fact that they wear more makeup on their faces than clothes on their body. And it objectifies girls not yet women. And it attracts a certain person that may not be the best influence. And there are a thousand other activities I would rather her spend her time on. The debating club, for instance.

There are many reasons I don’t want her to join competitive cheerleading. Everyday she asks, and everyday I throw out a different way of saying no (you could break your neck being today’s flavour). But somewhere in my head I worry that I should let her be who she wants to be. I agree it’s important that kids express themselves, and that those parents who get in the way of that expression are doing a disservice to their children. When she wanted to wear mismatched clothing, I was cool with that.

But this is different, and so I’m choosing to ignore that little voice in my head, and go with my gut instinct, the instinct that draws the line in the sand just before cheer club, and makes me unpopular. The consequences are large and possibly, unforgiving. I might pay for this for years to come, but then I may thank myself, too.

These children should have come with specific directions attached. What would you do?

A GranFondo Retrospective. Try It, You’ll Like It.

September 23, 2011 5 comments

The beginning to a long day

My first hitch of the day was applying sunscreen to my arms, and then trying to roll up my arm warmers. The forecast for the day was hot: yet leaving my house by the light of the moon and riding to the start of the GranFondo required warmth, thus the sunscreen/arm warmer combination. The two don’t mingle, it turns out, and I think all of my sunscreen was scraped off by the time my arm warmers were in place.

These are the things you just can’t plan for, but they always make race days memorable.

I left my house at 5:45 am to ride the 10 kilometers to the start (in effect making it a 132 km event, since my mind did record every kilometer we passed), when the second hitch struck. There are no streetlights on my road, and I couldn’t see a thing. I gingerly glided down the hill in the dark, hoping I didn’t spill before I even got to the starting line.

Once down on the well-illuminated main road, I was immediately caught up in a cheerfully growing peloton making their way over the Lion’s Gate Bridge, to the start of the race on Georgia Street. Thus began the camaraderie – I knew no one, but felt a common bond. For those who don’t do these races, this a big part of why we do them.

A full hour before the race, thousands of riders were already in place for the start. It was a sea of spandex and rubber, so I had to text to find my friend. Once in place, we watched the circus unfolding around us. Finally at 7:00 am, Barney Bentall and Jim Cuddie sang our national anthem, and then hopped on their bikes for the 122 km ride to Whistler. I know, cool, right?

This beginning section was what I feared most: bikes everywhere in a narrow corrider, unclipping from my pedals hundreds of times until we got some space between us to ride freely. But my fears were unfounded: race organizers did a bang up job and it went off without a hitch. We were on our way.

Riding through West Vancouver was so much fun – it was thrilling to have our own lane on the highway, and spectators huddled on overpasses and along the exits to cheer on riders. I was so relieved to be actually on my bike and upright after the start, I felt rather invincible.

That wouldn’t last long however: shortly after Horseshoe Bay riders were off their bikes and motioning for us to slow down. A rider had crashed and looked badly injured, medics were already on the scene. One look at the accident and I lost my mojo, slowing considerably for a while after. A split second can change everything.

View from Horseshoe Bay (taken on another day)

I had lost my friend but found her again as we rode up the Furry Creek hill. We decided to stop at the next rest stop in Britannia Beach and grab some food. The rest stops were somewhat of a party, with hundreds of bikers milling about and always familiar faces. It was nice to get off that seat, if only for a couple of minutes. We refueled and hit the road; it was literally all uphill from here: the biggest increase in elevation occurs between Squamish and Whistler. I had ridden to Squamish and back in training, but didn’t have much knowledge of the road from that point on.

It is drastically different when driving.

As luck would have it it was getting hot as we started the uphill slog after Squamish. I noticed lots of riders beginning to slow down, and could see the distance was taking its toll. My knee was starting to throb, and getting up out of my seat was painful. I kept my head down and hoped the pain would subside eventually, since I otherwise felt fine, if a tad tired.

I pulled into the rest stop at the Salt Shed, with about 30 kilometers to go. Thankfully the medical tent was even closer than the water station. I walked in and asked, “What do you have for pain?” One volunteer sat me down and started rubbing what I hoped was miracle cream on my knee, while another got me Advil and refilled my water bottles. As this was happening two other riders came in asking the million dollar question, “What do you have for pain?”

With 30 kilometers to go, I was fairly certain I could finish, even if I had to pedal with only my left foot. But eventually either the Advil kicked in or the cream started to work, and I felt better. This was fortuitous because this is where the killer hills lurked. The sun was beating down on the asphalt and reeking havoc with tired riders. Many were pulled over during the last fifteen kilometers trying to stretch out muscle cramps, while others were losing their lunch. I focused on the road in front of me and counted down the distance; the kilometers at this point passing almost intolerably slowly.

I like to think I was passing this car...

Finally we were at Function Junction, and the tree cover provided a break from the unrelenting sun. The undulating hills that brought us in to the village were much kinder than the previous steep climbs, and of course there was the knowledge that the finish was near. Things were getting better.

Riding the last couple of turns were actually pleasurable – despite the pain running through my body, from a sore neck to an incredibly sore butt – knowing the race was behind me, the finish line in sight, and a beer would taste incredibly good soon.

Sitting on the grass later that evening, listening to 5440 play an outdoor concert as the sun fell behind Blackcomb mountain, it was hard to argue this was not an amazing event. I had been nervous about making the jump to road riding, but was euphoric I had done it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Marathon Memories of Boston

April 15, 2011 2 comments

It was only one short year ago that I was in Boston on this very weekend, getting ready to run the marathons of all marathons on Monday. People have since asked me, “Was Boston really all that?” The answer is it IS that, and so much more.

From the moment you set foot in Boston for marathon weekend, you feel you are on holy ground. The city transforms itself into a sea of blue and yellow, and you would feel out of place if you had anything on your feet besides runners. Runners signify athleticism over geekiness, a welcome change of events.

People everywhere near the runners expo at the Hynes Convention Center have their recognizable blue and yellow race day packages slung over their shoulder. Workers are lining the street with barriers and building the finish line stands. People are photographing each other on the finish line, smiling today knowing they may not be smiling on Monday. It is a hub of activity and excitement.

As you walk around on this blue and yellow cloud, it’s hard to believe it is just a regular weekend in other parts of the world.

I was humbled by the people I was meeting, runners who have run not one or two but sixteen and seventeen Boston’s. I met a man who had traveled from New Zealand for the race. People from all corners of America who regularly make this pilgrimage. The camaraderie is non-stop and all-invasive – not the place for a quiet weekend of reflection. It’s a place to embrace, and be embraced, by our great sport.

It’s hard not feel like you’re a part of running history by simply being there. At the runner’s expo I brushed elbows with storied people like Kathrine Switzer, Amby Burfoot, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and David Willey. Heady with touches of greatness and cross-eyed by the massive amounts of people, I actually got lost in the expo and couldn’t find my way out.

Everywhere, people are helping people. It restores ones faith in humanity. My high-tech Garmin watch broke on Sunday, and the manager at their booth simply gave me her watch to use. I was traveling alone, but was invited by a fellow runner to have dinner with his large extended running family in Boston’s storied north end. Everywhere people are speaking the body language of helping. It is impossible to get lost, or not know something. The first person you ask will help you.

It was surreal to walk out of my hotel at 6 am on race day and see the street lined with yellow school buses as far as the eye could see. Making my way to the Commons it could have been rush hour, as long lines of people waited to get on the buses that would take us out to Hopkinton, 26.2 miles outside of Boston.

The athletes village, set up at the Hopkinton high school, housed gigantic tents, with food and beverages being served at several tables for pre-race nutrition. People milled around in large groups, music boomed from speakers, and runners nervously chatted about their strategy or lack thereof. It was like being at a gigantic party. I reluctantly tore myself away from it and made my way to the starting line.

Waiting in my corral at the starting line, excitement crackling in the air, I could feel the ghosts of past runners who had stood on this same spot; albeit with fewer participants. In widely varying weather conditions, snow, rain, draining sunshine, people had stood here on Patriot’s Day, waiting to begin the journey to Boylston Street.

If the entire weekend leading up to the race wasn’t incredible enough, the race itself is out of a dream sequence. The festivities continue long after the sound of the gun. I saw a runner down a beer at the biker bar just down the road from Hopkinton, to the delight of the bikers. A runner veered off course in Natick to play lawn bowling with residents. Several runners stopped to kiss students in the Wellesley tunnel of love. I ran beside Captain Canada for a while, decked out head to toe in maple leafs and flags. Along the way people are holding up signs with the latest Red Sox score. Thousands of people lined the route, high-fiving and screaming the entire time.

It was evident that this was a moment in time. Despite a nagging pain in my knee that started only 5 km in, the momentum of both the crowd and the runners carried me through long after I would typically thrown in the towel. Boston is far from typical.

After Wellesley there are the Newton Hills, of which Heartbreak Hill is only one. Looming even larger is the descent from Heartbreak Hill to the Cleveland Circle, for me infinitely more difficult on my legs that were by then searing in pain, complaining loudly that they had had enough.

But Cleveland Circle leads to Beacon Street, and that meant thousands upon thousands of spectators lining the route, in some places 8 people deep, people on rooftops and balconies, everywhere spectators cheering you on. The Citgo sign appears, a vision to shoot for, proof that the end is actually in sight. If you can only put one foot in front of the other for a few more miles.

Fenway Park and the Citgo sign are the the last mile markers that send you through the famous directions, right on Hereford, left on Boylston, the shortest turn on the course, and undoubtably the loudest. Rounding the corner, the finish line is a short sprint away. Or crawl, depending.

As for the finish, let’s just say it is an odd juxtaposition, feeling physically terrible but mentally high. Yet I very much recommend it. If you ever get the chance to run the Boston Marathon, just do it. The mountains you may have to move to get there will be waiting for you when you get back. The memories of the race will stay with you forever.

Relieved to be finished

SnowShoe Running: Try, Try Again

March 11, 2011 2 comments

There’s a new trend in town, and it involves running and mountains, a Vancouverite’s dream. As it happens, I love running and mountains. How could this go wrong?

Well, it sort of did. But if at first you don’t succeed, they say to try, try again. So I will try again, but first, a little tale of woe.

Grouse Mountain hosts Snowshoe drop ins every Monday and Wednesday night, so after hearing several people tell me how amazing it is, you will absolutely love it I believe were the exact words, I took the tram up the mountain to check it out. They had just received a dump of great snow, so despite poor visibility and low temperatures it held the promise of a snowy adventure.

I wedged into the dark tram alongside snowboarders and skiers, amazed at people’s stamina after 6 pm, when I’m usually thinking about going to bed. Stifling my yawns at the thought of curling up with a good book, I tried to draw from their energy and enthusiasm as we ascended to the base of my favorite local mountain.

After signing in with about seventy other night owls, they split up into groups of varying abilities. Because of high avalanche risk, the back country was closed, which meant the runners would be sticking to Paper Trail. I heard some groans, but it sounded innocent enough.

From the word go, the runners were off at a break neck speed down a steep pitch, powder flying up the back of my jacket as I frantically tried to keep pace with fading voices and fainter headlamps. The last time I sprinted downhill was never, so I tried to go as fast as I could without breaking my ankle, or worse, neck, as I navigated between dark forms that I hoped were trees.

I managed to barely keep them in sight, when suddenly, several beams of light were coming towards me. The sound of labored breathing – other than my own – was approaching me.  Having come to the bottom of the steep pitch, they had abruptly turned and were now trudging back up. Obediently I turned and brought up the tail end of the group as they made their way back up.

Someone has to be last, I told myself, as I again tried to keep pace with these jackrabbits. After fifteen minutes of a heart pounding, calf searing climb, I was relieved to see they were taking a breather. I joined their circle as someone yelled “Let’s go!”. I bent over to take a full breath into my lungs, but they were off, screaming down the hill that I had just labored up.

Surely, this is a joke.

Wondering what was going on, I trailed these inhumane people. Once again, I just caught up to them at the bottom of the hill when they turned and headed up. “How many times do you do this?” I managed to ask between breaths, meaning it took a long time to get out that sentence. “Four or five,” a snowshoer called over his shoulder.

I never did see any of their faces, just clouds of snow as they ran downhill.

You’ve Come A Long Way (in Football), Baby

February 8, 2011 2 comments
Women's Football Alliance

Image via Wikipedia

During the Super Bowl, my daughter asked me why girls can’t play football.

I put down my beer and formulated my answer carefully, sensing this was a moment to rise to the occasion rather than shoo her away. I dusted off my Second Wave Feminist self and told my child to make herself comfortable, this could take awhile.

For starters, you are looking at a girl who played in a women’s touch football league, I told her. It was two-hand touch, no cumbersome gear or helmets required, more befitting our casual commitment to a some fun and exercise a few hours a week. We were fearless, running patterns and breaking nails. So let’s begin today’s lecture by taking the “can’t” out of that question.

Women can play football, they just can’t be paid to play football. Or so I thought.

I was ready to begin my diatribe on how it has been largely a man’s world for approximately 2000 years when thoughts of “A League of Their Own” flashed through my head – one of my favorite movies of all time despite the fact I hate baseball, a testament to its powerful message rather than exhilarating action. Surely the women in football omission has been addressed by this time in our evolution. I put my diatribe on hold and consulted the internet.

My indispensable friend Google tells me there is indeed a professional women’s football league in the United States. The Women’s Football Alliance is a full-contact American football league comprised of 62 teams across the United States and Mexico. The WFA is the largest and fastest growing league in America, it tells me on its website.

I doubt many New Yorkers have heard of the New York Sharks, despite the fact this woman’s football team has existed for a decade (tryouts were last weekend – no previous football experience necessary). I’m sure its team members will never experience the superhero status of the NFL’s players, although hopefully they more law-abiding than their male counterparts. But the very fact this league exists  – and I didn’t have to tell my daughter women can’t play professional football – makes me weep with gratitude for its unsung heroes.

The phrase “you can do anything you set your mind to” rolls off the tongue so much better.

At halftime they replayed an earlier scene where ten-year-old Ava Childs handed the game ball to an official. Ava won this honor by entering an essay contest. Her dream is to be the first female kicker in the NFL. Obviously, Ava already had this conversation with her parents, whose answer must have been a mixture of “never say never” and “dream big”.

Whether or not you want your daughter to become a professional athlete, it’s heartening to know the possibilities are as limitless as our imaginations. You go, girl.

Ava Childs was chosen to deliver game ball at Super Bowl