Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Of Bucket Lists and Marathons

I suspect that most of us of a certain age and beyond had an awareness of the concept of a “Bucket List” before the term itself came into popular usage.  I suppose it’s possible that the term has existed for as long as the concept. If so then perhaps it’s just me who was blissful in my ignorance. That could be the subject for another post (makes a mental note).

Some people dream of this
So to re-cap, a Bucket List is that list we create in our minds, or perhaps more formally, of things we feel we must do at some point in our lives. To me there’s a slight negative connotation to the whole idea. I think that for a lot of people (people who have even given their own Bucket Lists any thought) the items on their lists are things they intend to do only once. The expression “Bucket List” has given rise to a derivative expression: “Tick in the Box”. Let’s say for example you had Walking on Hot Coals on your list (I don’t but let’s just say you did). Perhaps you will get to the point where you accomplish this feat. Put a “Tick in the Box”, strike it off your “Bucket List” and never do it again.

A pastime from my past
So why do I see that as negative? Well it occurred to me that some of the things I’ve done in my life are possibly things that are on someone’s bucket list. I’ve cycled through a European wine region, I’ve done a triathlon, I’ve ridden a motorcycle, I’ve piloted a sailplane. For some people one of those may be a once in a lifetime experience. For others they may be such every day phenomena that they no longer even think of them as remarkable. For me they were all experiences that had a profound effect on my life and became a regular but very pleasurable experience for a long time thereafter. Flying sailplanes, the only one of the four I no longer do, was actually the most significant. That’s how my wife of 27 years and I met (another mental note for a future post). My point here is that if I had done any of those things only once and then called it a day I would have missed out on so many wonderful follow on experiences.  It probably bears mentioning that I never approached any of the items I named as Bucket List material. They were just things I thought I/we might enjoy.
So what does any of this have to do with marathons? I want to run the Boston Marathon. Why? Well because it’s the Boston Marathon!  I call myself a Triathlete but I don’t really call myself a Runner even though running is arguably my strongest of the three events that make up a triathlon. For me Boston is a Bucket List item. In order to get there I’ll need to run at least one qualifying marathon, possibly two or more. But I’m pretty confident that I will qualify and I will race there one day. And once I do that will likely be my last marathon outside of an Iron Distance triathlon. Perhaps not. Perhaps I will find the whole experience so fulfilling that I’ll want to repeat it. We’ll see.
Fine dining always appeals
No longer the same but I'd still like to go

Still the machine I would most like to fly in
The engine note alone is list-worthy

Madness may be someone else's dream gig
 In the meantime if you know of a Super Constellation we can catch a flight on, if you own a 12-cylinder car you’d be willing to let me drive, if you can get us a deal on a Monaco hotel room during Grand Prix weekend or a three-starred restaurant in rural France, Italy or Spain give me a call. Just don’t expect me to make a habit of it. Oh, and if you’re looking for a companion for the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona just keep looking.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Men and the Art of Motorcycle Cravings

With apologies to Robert M. Pirsig

A funny thing happened to me sometime after I turned fifty.
I suddenly wanted a motorcycle.
Was this a mid-life crisis? Almost certainly.
Did this mean that I was going to live beyond a hundred years? Who knows?
That's really not the point of this post.

I used to think the Yamaha RD350 was cool
When I was young I may have entertained the idea of riding a motorcycle. But it was never anything more than a notion. I never really thought I would become a fireman, an astronaut, a cowboy or a cop either. It's just another one of those things kids think about. Perhaps I held on to that motorcycle idea longer than most of the other ones. But I was never really serious. Too dangerous, too impractical, too upsetting to my parents; I moved on to other things. Or did I?

Many years later I became the father of two young boys myself. I remember being asked when one was very young: "Dad, how old do you have to be to ride a motorcycle?". With a totally straight face and all the sincerity only I can muster I told him: "Rob, you have to be forty". This made his mother very happy even if she lacks my ability to keep a straight face. I think she covered hers. Several years hence on the eve of my 40th birthday my words came back to haunt me, albeit in a pleasant way: "Whoa Dad! You can get a motorcycle!". But I didn't. Didn't even want one. Or did I?
Object of desire?

Fast forward 10+ years. Somewhere I see a picture of the revived Triumph Bonneville. I am smitten. Here is a retro replica of one of the classic bikes of my youth. And I want one. Which is really weird because in my youth I didn't want one. ...Or did I?

My ride as I found it at the seller

So there was some discussion at home, some understandings were reached and I took the Motorcycle Safety Course which was followed shortly thereafter by the purchase of a used Kawasaki 500EX. A "Ninja". One doesn't purchase one's dream motorcycle as their first bike. At least I don't.

So what is the point? Simple. None of my co-workers or triathlon team mates had any idea I was taking up motorcycling. As soon as I began showing up with it I learned that all kinds of guys either had a motorcycle, used to have a motorcycle and were looking forward to getting one again, or had always wanted a motorcycle and were dying to get one. So I formulated a hypothesis: All men want to have a motorcycle. An important point is, some of them may not be aware of it yet. Clearly I had harboured latent motorcycling tendencies that only surfaced in my fifties. Now I suppose it is possible that for some men these tendencies may only surface post-mortem. I am particularly proud of this corollary as it means my original hypothesis can never be disproved.

One could ask why the hypothesis applies only to men and this definitely warrants further deliberation. The easy answer would be that a significant number of women appear to disapprove of motorcycles altogether... Or do they? Couldn't this just be the best cover up? Kind of makes you go "Hmmm", doesn't it?
Equal opportunity craving?

In a future post I'll share some thoughts regarding the appeal motorcycling holds for me. I won't presume to speak for half (or all) of the rest of humanity.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Ironman Canada 2011 Part 3 of 3

Parts 1 and 2 dealt with the mechanics of the race. Just the facts ma’am.  But the Ironman Journey is so much more than a series of discrete events leading to the finish line. The third part of my report as I planned it in my head was the “touchy-feely” portion. How did it “feel”? Real Men can feel free to stop reading right now.

I've been in triathlon for 17 years. On some level I knew that I would compete in an Ironman race one day. And I knew that the one race I wanted to do as my first was Ironman Canada. Having reached a stage in life where we have a little more discretionary time I was open to the idea of entering the 2011 event. The idea became a reality when the Monday after the 2010 there were actually spots available on line. Kate and I talked it over and with her support I pulled the trigger. My Ironman Journey started that night.

Photos by Kate...

2011 IMC Tweet Up.
...so she's not in any of them!
When I set off on this adventure I knew I wanted to document and communicate it somehow. Maybe it was only so that I could articulate my own thoughts to myself but a part of me hoped some other people might be interested in what I was thinking. So I decided to open a Twitter account. I figured no matter how busy, tired or fed up I got I could always tap out 140 characters or less every couple of days.  And I did. A lot of times it was just mind numbing stats on the day’s workouts but sometimes a little of my personality and what I was thinking would show through.  To me the biggest benefit of Twitter and one I never expected was the virtual community that built up over the months leading to the event. The virtual community became real when many of us attended the “First Annual Ironman Canada Tweetup”, a dinner at a Penticton restaurant on the Thursday night before the race. Suddenly we weren’t disembodied virtual acquaintances in cyberspace. We were real flesh and blood friends eagerly looking forward to supporting each other from that point up until the finish of the race. And support each other we did. Thank you to all of the IMC Tweeps, those who raced, volunteered, spectated or just kept supporting us throughout. You truly enriched my Ironman experience.


So how did it feel? Well, I’ll start at the end.
I did my preparation.
I made a plan.
I trusted my preparation.
I executed my plan.
And I got the results I was hoping for.
I can’t think of many things more satisfying than that.

As far as emotions go it was all very interesting.  Training for IMC was not that different than training in years leading up to it. Just more.  And with more structure. Living in a cold climate, early season training took place in some pretty horrible weather.  Other years I would have blown some workouts off. This year I didn't. I knew this would make me mentally stronger and it did. In later stages of training when it got tough I told myself I had not gone out in the snow the rain the wind and the cold for months only to let up when conditions were not perfect. I carried these thoughts all the way through the race.

To my great surprise the most emotional I got in the 10 month journey was at the end of my last short brick the day before the race. I had done all the workouts, There was no more training to be done. It had been such a big part of my life for over ten months. I was happy and sad at the same time.
When is a smile not a smile?

As I said in Part 1, much of race day went by like a dream. There are parts I now remember very vividly but there were large parts where the details seem blurry. I set off with the intention to enjoy every moment of the day and I did almost that. I swear I raced all day with a smile on my face. The bike pictures tell a different story. But the smile from mile 21 on was real and I think the pictures back that up. From about 5km out I felt like I was flying. No, not running fast. Flying. I’m a little disappointed to see in my finishing video that what I felt was a full on sprint was actually more of a shuffle. Oh well.

In the days following the race I heard a lot of people say “Best Day Ever”. So was it so for me? No. Sorry. I have to save that for the day I got married, the births of my children and some of their amazing accomplishments.  But as far as selfish “ME!” events go? Yes, this may have been my best day.  And frankly in my view Ironman, at least the way I approach it, is a pretty selfish pursuit. The athlete asks a lot of friends and family who surround him. For that reason I don’t intend to do Ironman more often than once every other year.  I chose to make the sacrifices I deemed necessary to have the Ironman result I wanted. My friends and family did not. I would not ask them to do so continually.

Relaxing with Kate-Quail's Gate, Kelowna
So that really brings me to the Thank You’s. There are so many. Kate, obviously. Her support throughout was unwavering and there is no way I could have done it without her. Sons Rob and Mark put up with a lot of crankiness, maybe even more than usual. They kept me grounded. The rest of my family each of whom supports me in their own unique way.  My teammates who always inspire and encourage me. It was amazing having so many follow us on Ironmanlive till well after midnight local time when our last member finished. Next year I hope to help many of you to do great things. The Tweeps I already mentioned.  Gale Bernhardt whose book that I purchased for $22 gave me a rock solid training plan. And I join all 2800 athletes in thanking the community of Penticton and especially the volunteers. This is such a special event and would not be possible without them.

Thanks so much for reading

A satisfied Ironmanman and his wine... Waiting for a taxi

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Ironman Canada 2011 - Part 2 of 3

My second transition was a little slower as I made a p-break and this time I did stop for the sun screen. I set off on the run at an easy pace (whatever that turned out to be) and felt pretty good. I encountered Audrey and Kat (Paul's wife and daughter) at mile 5 and got water and sponges from them. This is the point where I suffered my biggest (and maybe only?) regret of the race. Kate was cheering at that aid station and I was so focused on the task that I totally missed her.
Kat cheers Paul, Audrey preparing a sponge in the background
My only stated goal pre-race was to run (rather than walk) the entire marathon. I was almost 100% successful. I deliberately walked every aid station to make sure I got everything I thought I needed and then started running before reaching the end. There were only three hills on the way out and two on the way back where I decided that walking would be just as fast as running and would use much less energy.
Is this the famed Ironman shuffle?
They say that in every Ironman you will hit one or more low points where your mental resolve will be tested and that you need to be strong and push through. The closest I came was the Mile 8 aid station where my stomach just felt a bit queasy and nothing really appealed to me. I attributed this to trying to take in too many calories at the intensity I was going so ran a little slower and just took water (Thanks again Jordan!). By the next aid station I was already feeling better. From that point on I was pretty much OK and was able to start increasing my pace.

Headed into the turnaround at Mile 12 I saw Kevin coming out for his Mile 14. He looked pretty strong and I thought "good for him". Shortly after Mile 14 I saw Paul heading for the turnaround and he was moving OK but didn't look too comfortable. He told me not to stop, we high-fived, wished each other well and kept going. Around Mile 19 or so I saw Scott (Love the TTTC uniforms!) and he wasn't moving too fast but looked to be in good spirits. Again we wished each other well and kept moving. Very shortly thereafter I came back into town and with about 10k to go (Only 10k!) I started to allow myself to think I was going to be able to finish strong. A smile began to form and it just got bigger from there to the finish. Around Mile 22 I could see a Tri-Factor uniform in the distance and recognized Kevin moving pretty slowly. I caught him and asked him how things were going. Not well, apparently his stomach had shut down at Mile 17. I encouraged him to run with me but he said he couldn't so I went off on my own. You get to a high point on Main St between Skaha Lake to the South and Okanagan Lake to the North where the finish is. Like the man says "It's all downhill from there" and I really picked it up (or felt like I did). With your name on your race bib all of the spectators are cheering you on by name which is quite a boost.
Feeling the Finish Line approaching
The last trick the course plays on you is that as you are heading towards the finish they turn you away for an out and back along the Lakeshore Ave on Okanagan Lake. That outbound section seems to go on forever. The return goes by super fast. In what now seems like a total blur I was through to the finish. It's good that there are pictures because I didn't really take the time to recognize the enormity of what I had just accomplished. I do recall an almost euphoric feeling from about 3km out. Happily Kate was working in the finish are and this time I did NOT miss her. They let her leave her post to accompany me to the finishers recovery area.
Kate was able to get the "Hero" picture
Once I sat down in a chair there was a period where I did not feel good. I just didn't know which way my stomach was going to go. I had some water and some Pepsi and in about 20 minutes or so I was feeling great again. Piece of pizza, massage, gathered my gear and hiked the kilometer back up the hill to our place on the Lower Bench. I chatted with our hosts, showered and started eating the post race food (and beer!) Kate had prepared for me. Shortly thereafter Kate returned from her shift and we were able to finish our post race meal together.

At around 10:30 we headed back down to the line to cheer on the final finishers (this time I asked if we could take the car). What an experience! An absolute must-do part of your Ironman experience. Steve King and the rest of the announcing team get the crowd absolutely pumped up to cheer the finishers in. People at the barriers pound on the signboards to pace them. Nobody walks the final 100 meters. There's way too much energy. Jordan Rapp showed up with about an hour to go and if anyone looked like they might walk to the line he got them running. I saw a lot of the Twitter peeps (Tweeps) come across which made me feel particularly good. Watching those final finishers, right up until about two minutes to go, was almost as memorable as my own finish.

In Part 3: The "touchy-feely" part of Ironman

Ironman Canada 2012 - Part 1 of 3

Where to start?

Ironman Canada is such a big event in every sense of the word. The course, the number of entries, the volunteers, supporters, spectators. Perhaps most significantly it's a huge athletic endeavour for every one of us who signed up a year in advance and made the commitment to train in preparation for a single day in August that would last for only up to 17 hours. Along with 1100+ others I would start my first Ironman triathlon in Penticton, BC on August 28.
I won't attempt to document the history of this event. It's available from more knowledgeable sources than me. Nor will I describe my training leading up to the event. I'll just start by saying that when I went to bed on Saturday August 27 I felt that I was as physically and mentally ready as I knew how to be. After 17 years competing in triathlon I was prepared to start my first Ironman.
2054 Bike and Gear Bags - Almost Ready to Rock and Roll
As I expected, I woke up a few minutes before my 3:30am alarm. I had my breakfast, did what I needed to do, made one last neurotic check before grabing my special needs bags and left our apartment without waking Kate. From that point on much of the day seemed like a dream. I walked the approximate 1km down from the Lower Bench to body marking in the dark. As I walked I was joined by more and more athletes all converging on the same spot. I mused that it seemed a bit like lemmings but hoped that the similarity ended right there. Just like the videos from Hawaii, the sun starts to rise and the whole event setting seems to materialize from the blackness. Surreal.
It was great to meet up with teammates Paul and Scott in the transition area. Kevin from Tri-Factor was also with us and the four of us were keeping it light as the start approached. As is my habit, I made sure everything was in order and I had my wetsuit on well in advance. I hate to be rushed before a race.

I met Jenn and Fern from Tri-Factor on my way to the water. I had decided weeks (months?) prior that I was going to start to the extreme left, near the front. The two women agreed with me. Paul had his own plan so we shook hands, parted ways and agreed we would see each other on the run.
That's me on the left...Somewhere!
The national anthem was sung and I didn't get quite the emotional rush I had been fearing. Good. The inside of the goggles can stay dry. A horn sounded and I just started swimming. My swim experience was almost the exact opposite of what I expected. With my start on the far left my intention was to maintain a line about 25m to the left of the buoy line all the way to the first turn. In all honesty the first two legs of the swim were no more intimidating (in terms of contact) than a typical Olympic triathlon swim. Of course there was regular unintentional contact but nothing malicious. I kept to my strategy of keeping to the outside around the first two turns and had a very relaxed swim experience. After the second turn I and my 2800 new friends all aimed straight for the shore and from that point to the finish I was making quite a lot of contact. Good thing it only lasted 1800m!

I race without a watch and go by feel so I had no idea how good or bad my swim was but I felt good and deliberately had not pushed hard. I had a pretty good transition (benefits of a long background in short course!)  and as I was riding away on my bike I heard that the race was 74 minutes old. Very happy about that.

I had been warned the ride out of town along Main Street is a group ride. You leave town at about 8k and from then on I tried to ride as much as possible the way I do in any race. I was frustrated by a certain abount of blocking ("Make the pass already!"). and had to go harder than I intended a few times to pass two or more within my 15 seconds. Only once did I find myself in a position that I realized "I'm drafting!" and immediately backed out of the daft zone. Whenever I did get passed I used that opportunity to ease up and eat and drink.
Looking almost like a real triathlete
I was fortunate to hear eventual Pro Men's winner Jordan Rapp speak publicly twice before the race. He said a couple of things that stuck with me. Most important was "the race starts after the top of Richter Pass". So I kept to a dead easy pace until I reached that point at around 70k in. My nutrition was good throughout. I missed one or two bottle hand-ups and some of the sports drink bottle tops were leaking a lot so I made sure to supplement with Fig Newtons (my Plan B) and that seemed to work. I really enjoyed the crowd support on the bike, especially the cheering crowds near the bottom of the Yellow Lake climb. Think Alpe d'Huez. It was definitely single file through there. At no point during the ride did I get that "I really want off of this bike" feeling I remember from my first Half Ironman. Surprisingly, for a guy living in the flatlands for the past 14 years I didn't find either of the two major climbs or the seven (ten?) rollers in between them all that challenging.I was pretty risk averse on the downhills though, stayed mainly on the base bars and never exceeded 72km/hr (Inside joke for the folks back home).

Before I knew it we were wheeling our way back in to Penticton. I'm proud to say that after almost 6 hours I was still able to execute an acceptable flying dismount. Very cautiously though. Seconds don't mean quite as much in Ironman.

In Part 2: The marathon and the finish