Tuesday 30 October 2012


Knees bent, hunched over, I slowly make my way across the room. I grab on to anything that crosses my path for support. My husband laughs, “is it really that bad?” “Yup,” I laugh with him. My calves are mad at me… again.  After a two-month hiatus from anything resembling fitness, I am back in pursuit of another Ironman race. Roth, Germany is the destination; the race is 257 days away.

Training unofficially started last week. Coach Al agreed to begin a little early, because apparently I need a training plan to get me off the sofa. Eight weeks of resting and eating may have helped repair my muscles and tendons, but what I didn’t need was the 10 pound weight gain, and the speed and endurance loss. It happened so quickly. I hope the same will be true in reverse.

My plan for Roth is a modified version of Louisville. I still want to finish with a smile on my face, but I added one more ingredient… speed. With that in mind, I met with Kris Sheppard, a coach at AE who specializes in running. With a camera in hand, he filmed me running this past Thursday. After a few hard minutes on the treadmill, Kris began to point out my hip-to-knee angle on his laptop screen. “Not bad Carmen,” pointing at my leg extension. The more I stared at the screen, the more Kris became background noise. The voice inside my head screamed… “Is that me on the monitor?... Is that what I look like when I run?... Holy cow, how much weight have I gained anyway?” Kris keeps talking, pointing at the screen. He draws a line from my hip to my knee and then to my foot. Percentage numbers pop up on the screen. Kris is still talking, but my eyes are fixated on my ass. “This is what I get for taking two months off.” Kris is still talking.

I tried my best to pay attention to all of the direction Kris was giving me. One comment stood out, like music to my ears, snapping me out of my vanity-driven daze. “Carmen, you are using the wrong muscles when you run.” Which ultimately means I can get faster. Frame by frame we re-reviewed leg and foot position, I am 80% there. The last 20%, if I can do it correctly, will give me the speed and the endurance I covet.

As I limp around the house, my calves burning from the sprinting drills I did for Kris, I look forward to the many months ahead of me. My journey to Roth is about pushing hard. But how hard can I go? How much can I expect from this, dare I say, middle-aged body? How fast can I cycle, and still run a marathon afterward? How fast can I run a marathon (non-stop I hope this time), after I have cycled hard for hours and hours? I know I can complete an Iron, but now the challenge is to go as hard as I can, without risking failure.

As I map out my plan, I know I need to be leaner and stronger if I want to go faster. Weekly yoga and strength sessions will be more important this go around, as well as proper nutrition. There is however a fine line. I still want the journey to be fun. I guess that is where Al comes in, reminding me that more does not necessarily mean better.

Work hard, have fun and do my best. Round two has began, and not a moment too soon.

p.s. Thanks Al… for laughing instead of reprimanding me when I asked if I could run twice in one day like the Kenyans do. I know I will make it to Roth injury-free if you are in my head. 

Words of inspiration.

Monday 3 September 2012

I did it!!!!

I have heard stories, troubling stories, of athletes throwing up, passing out, and even dying during an Ironman. These stories run through my head as I listen to the seemingly endless sound of sirens.  It’s now dark, and the hot Kentucky sun has gone down, but the temperature has barely dropped. I have passed many people today who had succumbed to either the heat, the endurance requirements, or maybe the nasty brown Ohio River they unintentionally drank too much of.  I am 6 miles from the end of my 9-month journey, my first Iroman, and my first marathon run. I am shocked that my body feels so good, my energy is still high, and the adrenalin is still flowing. My only concern is the excruciating pain in my knee – like a knife penetrating the bone. I am now unable to run.  I can walk, but running reduces me to tears. So the last 6 miles will take a bit time and a lot patience.

Dealing with my pre-race nerves

My day leading up to this moment had been brilliant. I dragged my very supportive husband out of bed at 3:30am to eat and then walked down to the event. There I did a quick check of my bike and pumped my tires, put food in my support bags, and got my body marked. It was over a mile walk to the swim start and it was still very dark. Drew kept the mood light and my nerves in check. The swim start for the Louisville Ironman is a unique one. Athletes jump off a dock a few at a time, until all 3,000 are in the water. The line-up for our swim extended for over a mile, but my friend and fellow competitor, Janet Carey, saved me a spot at the front of the line. It was a long wait. Many people, not wanting to lose their spot in line, would just pee where they stood – the only clue in the darkness being a new wet spot on the sidewalk.

Jumping off the docks

As the Ironman wannabies jumped off the docks, it occurred to me that being at the front of the line may not have been my best strategy. I have only been swimming about a year and a half, and lake water swims are still somewhat scary for me. My pre-race thoughts turned to my history of racing, which did not give me any confidence. I have only ever done three triathlons and they were all last summer. Today was my first and only race for this season.  

The calm before the storm 

When I entered the water, there were maybe 50 people before me. Janet and I swam the first few 100 meters side by side. The water felt warm and my breathing stayed steady. It was fairly quiet, but more and more athletes were swimming up and passing me. My swimming has come a long way in a short period of time, but my speed is still slow – so many of the athletes who were lined up behind me, were catching-up and passing me. I found myself sandwiched between swimmer after swimmer, passing me, punching me, kicking me. I “sighted” to check where I was, and all I could see were thousands of flailing arms and legs. This may not have been a “mass start” race, but I was definitely in a mass of swimmers. My only concern was keeping my cool. A panic attack then would have been a disaster. 

Very happy that the swim is over

When the last buoy came into sight, I was surprised at how quickly the swim had gone. My fear of a DNF in the water was almost over, and I was elated. Once on dry land, I made my way down the shoot to the women’s tent. A volunteer retrieved my bike bag, and another helped me strip out of my swimsuit. More volunteers descended on me, until I had three helping me suit-up for my ride. The teamwork was amazing, and very welcomed in my post-swim fog.

Heading out on the bike

As I ran to my bike I could hear the voice of my coach, Al, in my head: “Carmen, remember you have to run a marathon after you ride…don’t go too fast, there is no room for error here”. Nutrition, hydration, and speed would be my focus for the next 6 to 7 hours. I reached into the back of my bulging jersey and dug around for something to eat. I pulled out a wrap that I had made the day before: almond butter and honey. I took a bite and struggled to swallow. It was dry and difficult to stomach. It had been 20 minutes since I had left the water, and I knew I had to start eating. I could not understand why something that I had enjoyed on training rides was now repulsing me.

Loving every minute
About thirty minutes later, I dug around in my jersey again. Avoiding the wraps, I grabbed a bag of boiled, mini-potatoes. I popped one into my month and blessed the person who recommended I try it. The flavor was wonderful. Every thirty minutes I rotated from gels to potatoes.  My body felt great, the scenery was spectacular, the hills were plentiful, and I was on a high. I just needed to pee, and badly. I am used to bio-breaks on the road, but the terrain had very few roadside trees and bushes. My thoughts were consumed with finding a place to relieve myself – I was so uncomfortable, and being in the aero position was not helping. I forced myself to drink, knowing that this would compound the problem, but I feared dehydration more than I did a spontaneously combusting bladder. I know some riders relieve themselves while riding, but that is not the tribe that I am from. All of a sudden I felt spay of “water” on my leg. It felt cool and rather nice. I looked at my water bottle, wondering if it was leaking… it wasn’t. I kept looking around, trying to find the source. And then I spot the rider ahead of me. “You have got to be kidding me!”, the voice in my head yells. HEY, YOU…I AM RIGHT BEHIND YOU, STOP PEEING ON ME.  I think I was more jealous than mad. 

With loop two over, I figured it was another hour before I began my run.  Excitement took over. I couldn’t wait to begin my first marathon. Round two in the woman’s tent: strip down, and fresh, dry clothes on for the run. I could have saved some time by running in my cycling gear, but I wanted to feel dry – even if it was only for a little bit. The first part of the run began with a huge hill up to the top of a bridge.  My calves tightened and burned with pain.  I slowed my pace to a walk, and then stopped and stretched. I knew it was going to take a bit of time before I got my running legs on.  I kept moving, speeding up as my legs gave up complaining.

It started at first with a twinge, and then with each step the feeling grew. My left knee felt funny. This was not good. I was only 13k into my run and I had to stop and walk. I knew this pain. I hadn’t felt it in a long time but I knew what it was and it couldn’t be stretched out. 42k minus 13k is 29k. I calculated how long it would take me to walk the rest of the race. This was not how I want to end my day. I remembered that I had packed four Advil in case of an emergency. I have never taken pain meds on a run, and I have heard that they can be dangerous. I struggled with what to do for a few minutes, and then popped one in my month. I needed to see if this would work.  After a few minutes I began to run. It worked! Miracles of miracles, the pain became background noise, which I was able to ignore.

Aid stations were every 2k, and Ironman had put out a pretty interesting spread. I walked through every station, using the time to take a little pressure off my knee, and fill my nutritional needs. I let my body tell me what it wanted. I drank chicken broth and water, ate orange slices, grapes, and bananas.

An hour after I took the first Advil, the background noise became a heavy metal rock concert, loud and annoying. I took another. The guy that I was running and chatting with begged me to share an Advil with him. “Please,” he said, ”I’m hurting”. I only had two left, but I just couldn’t say no. I would regret that decision at the 37k mark.

As the sun began to go down, I saw Janet for the first time since the start of the ride. We hugged and congratulated each other. We were not done, but we were happy that we were both still in the race and smiling. We parted again, me on the back-end the of the first loop, she on the front-end. The pain began again, and I took my last pill. My calculations told me that the pain would be back before my race was over.

With 10k left to go, the pain while running is awful. I have no more Advil. I can walk, but running is now out of the question. Frustration overtakes me. “It could be worse,” I keep telling myself, trying to keep my perspective on the situation. But I am disappointed. As I turn the last corner onto Mohammad Ali Boulevard, I can hear the roar of the crowds. One more turn and I will be looking at the finishers’ shoot. I desperately want to run up the shoot, you know, like a champion would. I try one more time to run, and almost collapse in pain. I turn the corner and see the bright lights. There are hundreds of people cheering. Completely overwhelmed, tears fill my eyes.

Soooo happy!!!!

I begin to run. I desperately do not want to walk up to the finish. And suddenly, I can’t feel my knee. I can’t feel anything but pure joy. Running, I high-five every hand that reaches out to me. It has been a long day, and the end to a very long journey. It all comes down to this moment. I feel like I am floating. The lights are getting brighter and brighter, and I can no longer see the finish line. I hear my name: “Carmen Wageman… you are an Ironman.” I cross over the finish. Almost immediately my knee buckles, but I don’t care… I am an Ironman. I did it. I did it. I did it.

I did it!!!!

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Shut up brain...you're freaking me out!

We have an emotional side and an analytical side of our brain. Both are very important in different ways. They talk, yell, scream and at times, completely ignore each other. There are days I wish I had complete control. I can't tell you how much easier it would be if I was in the driver seat with all the crap that goes on in my head.

It is a little over four weeks to my event (I am no longer calling it a race. That just freaks me out). More and more, I find myself telling the emotional side of my brain to calm down. My right hemisphere is randomly sending butterflies to my belly throughout the day.  My left side yells back, reprimanding its right counterpart for wasting precious energy. If I am like this now, how am I going to control my emotions on race.... oops…event day?

I recently planned a vacation for Drew and I. We leave in three days. A glorious seven days away from reality, a cycling trip through Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail. I thought my coach would have an issue with this last minute decision, but he was actually thrilled. He said it would be good for me mentally. I guess he has coached a few first-time Ironman basket-cases in his time.

I hope I will be able to distract my right brain, if only for a week. My left says I am ready – I have trained hard and I am feeling great. My lake swims are still full of anxiety, but that is only when I am on dry land. Once I am in the water I am actually fine now... I have come a long way. My biking is super strong. I have never loved the bike more than I do now, and I really can't wait to ride the route in Louisville.

My marathon run will be interesting. I have never been stronger than I am now, but I am still a new runner and my brain and body knows it. So the Kentucky heat and the lack of experience will make this event a challenge... but a challenge the left side says I am ready for. This will be my first marathon run and it will be something I will cherish, no matter how hard it will be to complete (says the right side of course).

So I am working on my head right now. My injury-free, mega strong body is there, but parts of my brain are beginning to fixate a little. Time to focus a little training on the mental part of this game.

Monday 2 July 2012

What doesn't kill you....

The Iron is not for sissies!! That is for sure. In this multi-discipline race, everyone has his or her own strengths, weaknesses and fears. My strength happens to be the bike, my weakness is running, and my fear is the lake. A little more then a year ago I learned to swim the front crawl, but that is not at the core of my fear. I may not be fast, but I am strong in the water and I have the confidence to do the distance. So, like many other triathletes, and a great many people in general, I just feel uncomfortable in open water.

Last year when I decided to try triathlons, I sought help for this fear and I learned a few things. First, I uncovered a repressed memory through an EMDR session (www.emdr.com). My debilitating fear of the lake came from being trapped under a moving boat, which I fell out of as it was docking. Being pinned under water with the sound of the propeller getting closer would be enough to keep almost anyone from ever going back into the lake.

The second thing I learned is that lots of people are afraid of open water. It makes sense. If everyone was fearless, there’s a pretty good chance that we, as a species, would have extinguished ourselves by now. Heroic, maybe, but not really practical.

When I went into the lake for the first time this training season, I thought I had my fears in check. I actually thought I had “conquered” them. It was pretty cocky of me, when I think about it. I just didn’t give my fears enough respect. It has been a few weeks since my panic attack, and I managed to revisit my therapist, a swim coach, my coach, and Canadian Tire. Armed with great advice and a $275 orange plastic Kayak, paddled valiantly alongside me by my daughter, I am happy to report that I have had six “event free” long lake swims. The kayak was my idea and the one I am most excited about. My 15-year-old daughter, Caitie, is now my training buddy and she and I could not be happier with a new way to spend time together.

I will never again take my fears for granted, I will simply acknowledge that they exist, and maneuver around, up or under them to get what I want. Thanks to my fears, I get a summer of memory-making with Caitie, and a newfound respect for the old saying, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

A set back…ARRRRGH!!!

“Pretty good” is how I would describe my training so far. I feel stronger then ever on the bike, my running is progressing, and my pool swims have been fabulous. I am up to 4km-plus swims, multiple times a week. Everything is falling into place…right? Uh, not exactly. I had a major set back. I am still a little in shock, and sorting out how serious this is.  I have begun to question whether or not I will be able to complete my training and compete in Louisville.

Last night my friend Marc and I met up at Lake Wilcox for a 2k swim. We have done a few 2kers together, but all were last year. This was my first lake swim of the season, I was excited about getting into my wetsuit again – it makes me feel like an athlete. I struggled to pull the neoprene rubber over my body because the day was very hot, and my skin was sticky, it was hard to do. I pulled, and tugged and finally said “good enough”. I had a few butterflies in my stomach but that was to be expected. This was my first lake swim of the season, after all. As we walked to the lake’s edge I kept pulling on my suit trying to get more movement in my shoulders.

We entered the water and I dove under. It felt great. As we headed out, my wetsuit tightened across my chest and around my neck. I stopped and, as I treaded water, I tried to pull it up to get more slack. I told Marc that I was fine, I was just getting used to the suit. We started swimming again, and again I stopped. The suit’s constricting nature was beginning to affect my breathing. I apologized to Marc. His typically good natured reply and reassuring comments seemed to give me confidence. The fact that I had swam this lake before also kept me going, as we headed out further and further.

We were now in the middle of the lake, and my heart rate was getting out of control. I told Marc, “I’ve had it. I’m heading back”. I didn’t tell him that fear had started to set in. At this point, I was completely unable to control my breathing and panic was beginning to consume me. The shore looked very far away in every direction. Every time I put my face in the water I could feel a pounding in my chest. I could hear funny sounds as I exhaled – gurgling sounds. The winds were picking up and the waves were getting bigger.

I began to think about the hours and hours I had spent in the pool over the past many months. “I am strong,” I kept telling myself. “You can do this, just stay calm.” Every effort to slow my breathing down had failed, so I decided to roll onto my back. I was totally embarrassed and felt like a loser, but figured I could do the backstoke all the way back to shore if I had to. The waves were splashing over my open mouth and I began to choke on the water. Coughing, I stopped again. “CALM DOWN CARMEN,” I screamed in my head over and over, but nothing was working. I felt like I was choking, and I couldn’t breathe. The next thing I knew, I was yelling at Marc: “HELP ME, HELP ME, GET THIS SUIT OFF”. Marc raced over and grabbed the pull cord that was attached to my zipper and pulled.

Cold water filled the space between my wetsuit and my bathing suit, and then my heart went up even higher. “Oh shit,” were the first words in my head. “Hypothermia”, was the next. I dismissed the thought, happy to expand my lungs, even if it was just a little. I was able to pull out my arms and wiggle the suit off to my hips. I figured I shouldn’t take it all off, I just wanted to get more air. With one half of the wetsuit hanging off my hips, I tried again. This time I tried the front crawl, but the weight and drag of the suit made any effort even harder than before, so my heart rate soared. At that moment I knew I had run out of options. Then, in the distance I saw a small buoy. I told Marc that I could make it.

The buoy was only a foot and half square, so I grabbed onto one side while Marc grabbed onto the other.  “Marc, I can’t do this, I can’t control my breathing”.  I had now started coughing from the water I had ingested, and the shore looked like it was million miles away.  A few moments passed and, as we hung on, my heart rate finally slowed down. I decided I was confidant enough to start out again. I also felt like I had little choice, it was raining and the lake was virtually empty.  We swam for a few minutes and I stopped again.

There is really nothing in life that could have prepared me for the feeling that was coming over me. I was now in full panic mode. I finally understand why people who can swim, drown. The thought of drowning was now a seed that had taken root in my head.  I looked back at the buoy and it felt too far away. I looked at the shore and it felt impossible. I was hyperventilating, and the thought of dying was in my head. 

At that moment, I saw a small motorboat headed in our general direction. I waved and scream as loudly as I could: “HELP!”. He kept going, so I screamed again with everything I had. Then Marc started screaming: “HELP… STOP… OVER HERE!”.

I am not sure what would have happened if that boy in the motorboat hadn’t finally heard us and stopped. I know that I never want to feel that helpless again. The mind is a strange and powerful thing. I am physically capable of swimming that lake at least twice over, but I guess my brain had missed the memo.

So, it is back to the therapist – back to baby steps. I just hope I that there is enough time between now and August to let my brain catch up to my body.

P.S. Thanks Marc, you literally saved me last night!

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Live from Texas (Part 2)

The day before Race Day:

Today I heard about a woman who had made the long journey to Texas to compete in this Ironman. Timing being everything, she decided to take a “quick” nap and ended-up sleeping through the sign-in. Months of training went down the drain, as did her “A” race, and all the money and time she had invested.

As the day before the Race winds to an end, it has become clear to me that the hardest part of the Ironman may have more to do with mental preparedness than physical. I have heard more than a few people talk about the “IM Stupids” that affect  athletes in the days before the Race.

The time is 8:30pm, the lights are out, and my friend is almost asleep. Our tomorrow – Race Day – begins before dawn.

Race Day:

It’s RACE DAY and the alarm has just gone off.  We are set to leave for the race at 4:30am. The gun goes off at 7:00am and there is still a lot to do. I am doing my best to keep the mood light. It is going to be a long day.

4:00am – multiple gear bag check and double check

4:15am - breakfast 

4:30am – leave for race

5:30am – gear bag drop off

6:00am - body marking

6:30am – Julie begins to waffle on whether or not to wear her wetsuit, finally deciding to go with the original plan of wearing it, even though the water temperature is 83F

7:00am – Athletes with wetsuits enter the water (10 minutes behind the several thousand non-wetsuit wearers)

The crowd of spectators is 3 to 4 people deep, and I can’t get a decent view. I have to move at least 500 meters back from the start.  As the gun goes off, there is a roar of excitement from the gallery. I wait. I am too far from the start to see anything. I can hear the water splashing and the sound is getting closer. The sun is still rising on the horizon and the rays are glistening off the swimmer-less, dead calm water. Moments later, like schooling fish, the swimmers begin to pass by me. It’s thrilling: the sights, the sounds. The moment I am in is surreal, and I am sucking up every moment of it.

Texas 2012 Ironman Swim start

The swimmers are now only a glint in the distance, and I begin my mile and a half walk to the next stage (the “bike out” section). It is a beautiful, scenic walk and with no one to talk to, I talk to myself. The voice in side my head is reprimanding me for doggin’ it on my swim workouts over the last couple of weeks. I vow to work harder on speed.

I am in a good position to see the athletes leave for the bike portion of the race. Many are already on the move. Sadly, I have arrived after the pro’s have left. One by one, each cyclist runs to the mounting line. Many with smiling faces, and all with focused determination.  By all accounts, this should be the longest leg of the race.

Julie comes out of the transition area and hops on her bike. I yell to her, but the cheers and her concentration thwart my efforts. She is off.

Julie is off on her first 180k ride in her life.

I decide to leave the event altogether and go back to the hotel for a nap. It will be around 6 hours before I see Julie again.

A nap and a shower later, I jockey for a postion at the end of the bike leg of the race. As each rider returns, I see that the smiles are gone. It is very hot, and the heat, coupled with the distance, is obviously humbling to the athletes. I watch a rider dismount and, as his feet touch the ground, his right leg seizes. Motionless, he winces. The crowd is transfixed on the drama that is unfolding. Time ticks by, and the only muscles that move are in his face. More riders dismount and move around him, but still he doesn’t move – as though he were made of marble. As a group, we are no longer cheering for the arriving riders. We are now praying for this rider and the unbearable pain he must be in.  “Move, move,” I quietly whisper. Then it happens… first his foot and then his knee. Slowly he regains control over his leg. He turns and begins to limp towards the end of the bike shoot. The crowd erupts in thunderous cheers that hit deafening levels. Tears fills my eyes, and the drama is over for now. Unfortunately, as I stand waiting patiently for Julie, this same scene is repeated serveral more times with other athletes.

I see her. An impressive 6 hour 40 min bike time. An amazing time, especially since this is the first 180K ride. I am hot, I have been in the sun for hours, and am getting hungry. I rush down to the run transition area to see if I can catch her run start. Most runners leaving the transition tent begin their run with a slow trot. Julie emerges and she is off for her marathon run. I yell out my congrats. I leave for the closest store to buy some food, water and sunscreen.

Off on her marathon run...go Julie!!!

My phone vibrates, I have an incoming text. It is my coach. “How are you doing?” Does he know that I am getting freaked out? Is he reading my mind? How does he do that? “Ya, I’m fine,” I reply, but I tell him how I am feeling. His reassuring texts do little to settle my fears. This race is hard, and seeing the pain in everyone’s eyes is really difficult for me.

I find a shady spot next to the canal, and watch for Julie on this looped marathon. Many athletes are walking. Very few look to be strong and in control. Most are near the ½ marathon mark and just want it to be done.

This race has turned into a head game. It is no longer about who is fitter, or who has trained better. It has become more than that. For several hours now I watched people run, walk, cry, puke, and quit. I watch as my friend crosses the finish line. In truth, I am a tad bit envious and unbelievably proud to have witnessed the amazing end of her courageous journey.

Not a great shot but it was the only one taken of us at the end of the race.  

Friday 18 May 2012

Live from Texas (Part 1)

I am sitting in row 26, seat F, on an Air Canada flight destined for Texas, in support of a fellow athlete – a woman who I just met a few months ago, at the start of her Ironman journey.  Tomorrow, I will watch as my new friend begins the longest race of her life. How will the day unfold for her? Will she survive the 4K lake swim in her new (untried) wetsuit? How will she feel after her first ever 180K-bike ride? Will her bike behave mechanically? How will she handle the heat in the unbearably hard 42K run?

Only a stubborn and determined woman would embark on a mission to compete in her first Ironman with only 5 month training. Julie, however, who was introduced to me this past January by our coach Al, is a natural athlete. A strong swimmer and marathon runner, her only weakness is that she is new to cycling.  We trained many times side by side, sharing stories and laughs during the long, dark winter months.

Last month, while in a spinning class, Julie casually remarked that her friends who were planning to come and support her in Texas had backed out. I searched her face for any sign of fear or disappointment and found none. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “she really is an Ironman in the making”.

As I drove home that night I kept thinking about Julie and her race. Who will be there for her as she crossed the finish line? Who will be there to pat her on the back, hold her up, to make sure she is okay? Most importantly, who will crack open and share a celebratory bottle of champagne? Then I made a decision: me, that’s who. I would be there to look her in the eyes and say: “I know what you just did, and it was incredible”.  Who better, I suppose, than someone who is on the same journey.

So I sit on this plane, writing, getting excited for Julie, and hoping that maybe, as a side-benefit,  I will learn a few things of my own that will help me with my Iron that is only14 weeks away.

Stay tuned….

Thursday 10 May 2012

The Mt. Lemmon Repeat

Last year was my first time in Arizona. I went for a tri-training boot camp in Tuscan, which is the perfect place to train: large bike lanes everywhere, picturesque scenery, and plenty of challenging routes.  This year I returned with a new bike and a stronger body. I was ready to climb Mt. Lemmon again.

Last year, my first experience with Mt. Lemmon began with a sleepless night. My nerves got the better of me that night, with the thought of the 42km up-hill climb I faced. I was fit from training for a marathon, but had not cycled much in the offseason. On the day that we were to climb, the forecast was not great. High winds were predicted. I do not recall the exact speed of the winds, but many times on the ride, the gusts lifted me up off the ground with my bike. In spite of the winds and my fitness level, I managed to make it to the top that day.  I never really appreciated that accomplishment until this year when I made my second attempt.

Round two started out much the same, with a sleepless night. Apparently when you train hard, it can affect your sleep. For the entire 6-day trip, I averaged approximately 3-4 hrs per night. The good news was that my nerves were better this year, since I was fully prepared for what laid ahead. The other bonus was the weather – it was perfect – warm but not hot, blue sky, and most importantly, very little wind.

Mt. Lemmon - half-way point

This year, as I started out, I was full of energy. I was ready mentally and physically. The views were breathtaking. I missed those views last year because the wind had forced me to keep my head down. The support vehicle was waiting with water at the seven-mile marker, and each mile we passed before we reached that first stop felt amazing. I was truly enjoying myself. I felt stronger and more confident than I have ever felt. Then, something changed. Toward the halfway mark I began to feel it. The “it” I am referring to is the strong sense that I should have been going faster than I was, with the amount of effort I was putting out. Something was wrong.

Finally, I gave in to the stubborn resistance of the grade, and screamed UNCLE. This had become as hard, if not harder, than last year. I searched for an answer as I fixated on the impossibly slow-moving asphalt. What could be wrong? Was it me? Was I more fit last year? What the hell was going on? And then hit me. It was my new bike. My perfect, gorgeous Specialized Shiv. The one-week-old love affair I was having with my Shiv came to an abrupt end.  “This bike SUCKS on hills,” I heard myself say out loud.

When I first rode my Shiv, I was excited with the aerodynamic features. Sitting more forward eases the pressure placed on my quadriceps muscles, so running afterwards feels much better. However, there is a trade-off, and that became abundantly clear to me on Mt. Lemmon. I had less power! On a 3-4% grade that would usually be no big deal – unless, of course, that grade is 42km in length.  So the plan I had hatched of selling my Ruby road bike is on permanent hold (LOL). There is room in my life for both, it seems.

In spite of my tribulations this year, I finished my ride up Mt. Lemmon feeling that the climb is amazing, no matter how you get up that imposing, silent, beautiful mountain.  The adventure is pure excitement from start to finish. I can’t wait to do it again next year. On my Ruby.   

Saturday 14 April 2012

The beast is born…

The drama of my Tri-bike purchase finally came to an end yesterday. What should have been a pretty straightforward purchase, turned into a really lousy experience. I waited patiently for months, just to be told that not only would I not be getting my tri-bike to train on in Arizona, but there was a good chance that I wouldn’t even have it in time for my Iron in August! Cervelo is to blame.  I guess their amazing deal was just a little to good to be true.  Oh well, in the end it turn out to be serendipitous.

My coach came to my rescue (again), and set me up with Heath at La Bicicletta. With zero decent (in my opinion) tri-bikes available in this city that would fit me (what a crazy sport this is), he magically found one, in my price range, and he also spent the time to size it to me. All within two days. What a beautiful machine the Specialized Shiv is. I took it out for its first ride today. I was scared when I clipped in, because I have never been on a Tri-bike, but within seconds I felt like I had been riding it for years.  

The Beast

An hour into the ride, I felt funny, but in a good way. I know I have been training hard for some time now, but today I felt incredibly strong, and somehow I knew it wasn’t just me… it was the bike! I guess with the aero position, I have more power. I was going faster but with far less effort – it was amazing. However, it did feel like I was cheating (lol).  

So all in all, a happy ending to the tri-bike saga of 2012. I am Arizona-bound in one week, and climbing Mt. Lemmon on my new, sweet ride has just made the trip more exciting for me. I wonder just how fast I can make this beast go. 

Friday 6 April 2012


Yesterday I said goodbye to my oldest daughter. With suitcase in hand, she boarded a plane to Europe.  As a parent, I constantly worry about my girls, and whether I’m doing enough to raise them properly. I had hoped that by now, one or both of them would have found a sport, any sport, that would have given them the joy and life lessons that I had found athletics had given me. “Lead by example”, has always been my mantra but, as it turns out, my daughters appear to be “allergic to sweat”. That said, I’m starting to think they have just translated my lead in a different way.

Last year when Jessica asked me if she could go on a class trip to Europe, I said okay, but that she would have to pay for it. I figured at the age of 16, there is no better time to teach the importance of saving. With a $3k price tag, Jessica’s reaction wasn’t altogether surprising: “How am I going to get that kind of money at my age? It’s going to take forever!”.  I resisted the alligator tears and puppy dog eyes, and stuck to my guns: “Jessica, if you want something badly enough, you just have sink your teeth into it and not let go.”

Caitlin and Jessica (left) on the first day of school 2011

Over the past year, guilt was my constant companion.  I watched as my daughter dragged herself out of bed, exhausted from juggling work, school and friends. She maintained her straight “A” average, but her moods were sometimes challenging. Many times, I wanted to give in. Picking her up from work late at night was getting exhausting for me too, especially with what I am doing.

With each passing month, her excitement and bank account grew. She made the installment payments for her trip on time, and even had enough money to buy a really nice camera. Her year-long journey to the finish line ended yesterday. As we said our goodbyes, I told her how proud I was of her. I told her that she would enjoy this trip all-the-more because she had worked for it. I also told her that she inspires me. Jessica smiled, paused, and looked at me… “Mom I’m just like you,” she said. “I’m a dog with a bone, too. “

Sunday 1 April 2012

No pain no gain…right?

April is the month I hope to be running again.  The last two months have been difficult physiologically. Dealing with injuries is part of training, and I have learned a few things, the most curious being:

Pain… is what I need.

I figure, if the cure hurts, it must be good. Last week my deep tissue massage was 90 minutes long. When I booked it, I asked John to spend most of the time on my very tight calves. I should have brought something to bite on, as his fingers dug deeply into my tightly bound muscle. “Breathe,” John directed, but somehow holding my breath and clenching my teeth was all I could do. “OK John,” I said, starting to breathe through the pain. “This is good for me… yes?”

Jump starting my calf muscle 
The next day I saw Jaclyn, my acupuncturist. As she tried to push the acupuncture needle into place, she told me that she could feel the muscle wrapping around the needle, resisting its incursion.
“OUCH, I can really feel that,” I told her. “Breathe,” she said. I was starting to get the idea from my rehab team that breathing was important. “I thought this was supposed to be pretty painless,” I said, trying not to sound like I was whining. “Well, if your muscles are inflamed, like they would be after a hard workout, then yes, it can hurt.” “Ok,” I said, breathing through the pain. “But this is good for me… yes?”

Then there is my once a week session with Trevor, my personal trainer who is also a trained chiropractor. His exercises are specifically designed to aid in healing my injuries, while building muscles and stamina. I am in pain for days after a one-hour session. “Yes,” Trevor says, “this is good for you.”

My injuries are painful but the cure... ouch!!!!

Saturday 31 March 2012

March in review

146 days to my A-race
Scheduled March training 48.40 hrs
Completed March training 56.10 hrs
Issues: Fatigue (stress related)

Overall, not a bad month. I stayed on top of my workouts, even when fatigue plagued me. I woke up most mornings this month feeling like I had just gone to bed. I also have a twitchy right eye which is a sure sign that I am a little stressed out. I figure the increase in stress is due to a busy spring real estate market, and general daily life stuff. I have been researching fatigue, and stress can really knock you off your feet. There is nothing I can do to lower my stress – it is what it is for now – so I am taking extra care to eat well and get as much rest as possible.

The good news is the month zoomed by (not like last month), and the last few workouts have been awesome.  I ran today after a long indoor spin (5 minutes only). It was my first run in 2 months. I can still feel something in my heel, but it was not painful to run. The next couple of days will determine if I can slowly resume my running training. My fingers are crossed.

Mt. Lemmon (cant wait!) 
My new bike is on it way!!!! Like an expectant mother in her 9th month of pregnancy, I am due and getting impatient. Impala Bikes called, and said that it has been shipped, and is expected to arrive this week. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like I will have enough time to get used to riding it before I have to ship it down to Arizona. I was really looking forward to training on it in Tucson. I am flirting with the idea of taking both bikes. I guess I need to talk to the coach.

So tomorrow is April, the beginning of a month that I hope to be running… a month that is better for riding outside… a month where the days are longer, and getting warmer. And, the month will end with a tri-training bootcamp trip in Arizona. For some reason, this month feels like the official beginning to serious training.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Rush, rush, rush…

I always seem to be rushing. To a client, to a staging, home to make dinner, to the gym, to the many assorted physio, chiro, acupuncture, massage appointments, and of course, to my second job as “mom’s taxi service”. There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. I crash on the sofa at night, exhausted from the day’s events. These past months have been a blur.

When I finished my pool run today, I had a rare, glorious hour to kill. Kids were out, husband working, dinner at the in-laws was not for several hours. What was I to do? I thought, maybe I would stay in the pool for a extra hour, run some more, or do 50-60 laps. Hmmmm, what would my coach say?….“This is a recovery week, time to rest”.

So, I left the pool and headed for the steam room. I have never really had a steam. It is usually broken at my club or I am in too big a rush. But today, the stars aligned.

I grabbed a few towels, including the iced mini-towel conveniently provided at the door. I entered the white-tiled room just as the steam valve began to pump out the hot, moist mist. A pleasing citrus fragrance hung in the haze. I took off my terry-cloth robe, laid it down, hopped on top, then covered my face with the freezing cold cloth. Happy to be alone, my modesty not challenged, I began to feel my muscles melt. Time slipped by slowly. Mentally and physically in the moment, my body sucking up every second of this vacation from life. I could only hear myself breathing and the valve hissing.

With the room now heavy with steam, I was unable to make out the woman who disturbed the peaceful bubble I was in. A current of cold air flowed through the open door before it closed behind her, cooling my hot skin. Time to leave I thought, as my modesty kicked back into gear. Those quiet, private, unbelievable minutes did more for me then any stress-relieving workout, or tension releasing massage. Ahhhh, the steam room. Now a new (must do) part of my training regime.  

Monday 19 March 2012

An Irish morn…

The weatherman got it wrong… very wrong. It was suppose to be a warm sunny Saturday morning, and instead we left for our ride in a cold, misty fog. Barely able to see 10 feet in front of us, I was concerned about the cars and their ability to see us.  Thankfully, not many people were out on the road.  

As we headed to Goodwood again, the normal chit-chat was kept to a minimum. We held a tight single-file formation, riding cautiously, not tempting fate. I felt a little sheepish. I had pushed for an outside ride today, claiming that the weather was going to be “awesome”. I even teased some of the members of our group for bailing last week, taunting them into coming out this week.

What an awful morning, but no one complained. So hungry was everyone to get out on the road, that they kept their moaning to themselves. Our streets have not yet been cleaned from the winter, so the mud and stones flicked up into our faces. Barely able to see, I ditched the sunglass that were protecting my eyes from the flying debris.

Happy to be out with the old gang again.

When we got to the bakery, Marc’s face was covered in mud. Clearly he needs to spend more time in the front (LOL, just teasing Marc). We cheered each other up kidding around and telling jokes, hoping that the when we were through the Irish-like weather would have passed. But, it didn’t… and our damp clothes pressed against our skin, making it even more uncomfortable for the return ride.  As we neared home-base, Judy yelled out that she had a flat – uhh, a perfect finish to a “perfect” ride. It wasn’t like last week, but I’m happy to be with the old gang again. No matter the weather.

Sunday 18 March 2012

5… 3,2,1… ok…

For the last couple of weeks, I have been leading the 5:30pm, Thursday night spinning class at Absolute Endurance.  I am not “teaching”, exactly – that would require some sort of expertise, which I do not currently possess. But I can tell the time (well, Julie might argue that point), I have a pretty loud voice, and I also like to lead. So I guess I fit the bill for this very temporary position.

Each week Alan develops a different workout for me to deliver. My duties are, first, to decipher the lesson (not always easy… Alan speaks “coach” – a language more confusing to me than French), then to fire up my iPod (I desperately need to update my music… I don’t think the owners of AE appreciate me playing Cee lo Green…”F-You”), and lastly to yell out when to start, how hard to go, how fast, etc.  The more I do this, the more I like it. I am now considering getting certified – maybe this Fall, as I’m just a little busy at the moment.

Working out in the 80's was way more fun! 
(I think more men watched this than women, LOL)

A lifetime ago, I use to teach aerobics at a women’s only club.  Styled around the famous 1980’s “20 Minute Workout” TV show, I would jump around in tights yelling out instructions.  I loved teaching that class. I almost pursued a career as a phys-ed teacher or a physiotherapist, such was my love of sports, but life has a way of leading you in alternate directions. There is no doubt in my mind that had I followed that path, it would have been an equally rewarding career for me.  

So Tara Norton, take your time coming back. Enjoy your new bundle of joy. I’ll help hold the fort while you’re gone. As they say in coach, “5… 3,2,1…take it up another 5 watts…"PUSH,PUSH,PUSH".

Sunday 11 March 2012

My Ruby wheels….

I hit the road today. I don’t remember my last ride in the late fall of 2010. I’m sure I wasn’t aware at the time that it would be months before my wheels would touch the pavement again. All week I eagerly watched the weather report, hoping for a dry, warm(ish) day. What we got was near perfect.

Only a few riders showed up at my door. With the threat of high winds and a chilly start, most bailed, leaving the hard core, badass women (Judy, Julie and me) to launch the season. The three of us headed out after a quick tire change and a few adjustments to our layered wardrobe.

What a day. We were all so excited to be liberated from our computrainers. Our legs, strong from all of the indoor training, felt like the winter never happened. I didn’t even mind the cars (except the one that almost took out a large peloton of cyclist coming towards us).  Yup, the season has begun.

30 minutes in, we pulled over, all of us overheating from our efforts and layers. Following a quick peel, we were off again. Wind at our back, sun on our faces, it was just what the mental health doctor ordered (for me anyway). When we got to Annina’s Bakery in Goodwood, the familiar smells greeted us at the door. Pastries and coffee…yumm.

After many laughs (at the expense of our wimpy, no-show teammates), we headed back. With heavy winds, our efforts multiplied exponentially. Pushing hard in front, I reached zone 4 quickly and stayed there for most our return journey (sorry coach). I didn’t mind, I was outside again.  Tiny patches of snow in retreat, my Ruby wheels spinning on bare pavement, it was a near perfect day.

My morning yuck-fest….

…starts with one glass, a little water and an assortment of vile flavoured, energy boosting, health food powders. This self-imposed ritual of torturous gulping did not come as a suggestion from my coach, or any one else. I put this concoction together on my own, in my pursuit to obtain more energy.

You’d think I would mix this stuff with fruit, or peanut butter, anything to make it taste better, but that takes time and I am barely able to put this together. As Drew and the girls watch my morning ritual, they giggle every time they see and hear the involuntary reaction my body makes. I can’t stop the mournful sounds from escaping from my mouth, as the last syrupy mess makes it way to my stomach. Then, immediately after, I take an even more disgusting spoonful of fish oil (for my omega hit), and last but not least several vitamins.

Sounds gross and it is – but it’s working, I am staying on top of my ever-increasing training, 13+ hours a week now. It is also my busy time of year at work, so a lot of energy is going into managing my business, my staff and stagings, stressed-out homeowners, demanding Real Estate Agents, prima donna contractors, etc. My teenage girls, can suck up a lot too… can you say hormones?

So, I begin everyday, chugging this strange brew, torturing my taste buds. All to stay on top of the demands I am placing on myself. And….believe it or not, I am loving every second of it!

Saturday 10 March 2012

I miss running!!!

I have been cross-training on the elliptical, and pool-running for a few weeks, but they are poor cousins to actually running. Last night after the spin class I jumped onto the elliptical (again) and tried to get into my “happy” place, but I just couldn’t get there.  I kept looking over at my friend Julie (a future Ironwoman in training), and wished that I was running on the treadmill beside her.  So like an addict in need of a fix, I found myself, moments later, on that treadmill next to her pushing on the speed button. I began to run.

“Don’t do it!!!!”  Julie pleaded, “don’t do it”. So I stopped, frustrated and still in need of a fix. 

I miss running so much I wrote a story about my first race. This is why I run….


I’m squished. Squished-in like corralled cattle. Thousands of people joined together on a narrow 2-lane street for one purpose – to run. The noise of the crowd is deafening, but I am alone in this pack and in no need of a voice.  Silently, I wait for the sound of a gun.  I can barely form a thought.  My heart is pounding through my chest. My legs feel drained from the excitement.  I am petrified.

BANG!!! The pistol goes off, but no one around me moves. We are blocks behind the elite runners, and it will take a few minutes for the wave to be upon us. Slowly, the firmly packed herd moves forward – the anticipation still demanding precious energy from my limbs. The rubber matt is in sight. Once crossed the voyage to the finish begins. I fixate on the black carpet with its electrodes, waiting to start the timer that wraps around my ankle.  
At the finish of my first race.

The sounds have changed and my attention now shifts from the road to the drove that is in front of me. There are thousands of runners, bobbing up and down, visible only because of the route’s decent. I am overwhelmed – overwhelmed by this magnificent sight and my emotional reaction to it. The journey that has led me here has been a long, personal one, and I am in the moment.

Elation keeps my feet from touching the ground. Floating down the road, I feel a tear stream down my cheek. A fleck of embarrassment is quickly rejected when another follows. I give in to the emotion, laughing and crying, I wipe tears away for 2k of this 10k run.  

This is my first race.

Wednesday 29 February 2012

February in review

-       178 days to my A-race
-       Scheduled Feb training 48.25 hrs
-       Completed Feb training 43.25 hrs
-       Issues: Illness, injury, February blahs

Boy, will I be happy to put this month to bed. I now have an appreciation for the term “February blahs”.  Like Eeyore, I seemed to have a dark cloud over my head that followed me around, day after day. I only had a few good workouts, all the rest felt like a chore. My energy was low, and my appetite was high. I think I literally ate my way through the month (which of course is now making its appearance on my ass).


I want to go on a diet but I think that would be risky, so for now I will just stop the daily binging on chocolate covered goji berries, and yogurt covered pretzels. On Friday nights, I will stop at 3 pints of beer (don’t ask) and maybe I’ll avoid eating dinner at 10pm (I am not training to be a sumo wrestler so I should stop eating like one).

I did miss a few swim workouts and for that, I am disappointed. My tendency is to over-train, but that was not the case in Feb. So I am relieved this month is over (just my luck that it’s a leap year). I welcome March with open arms, eager to suck up some natural vitamin D, hoping the days will get warmer and my Ruby’s wheels will soon touch the pavement.