Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Travel Notes: We all have stories. This is from Athens 2004.

I arrived at the airport in Athens jet lagged and dazed after the long flights from Victoria, Toronto and Montreal. My luggage was predictably lost in the exchange from Toronto’s Terminal 1 to 3, after a delay from Victoria and a switch to the Greek Olympic Airways. After the usual rigmarole to report lost baggage, made slightly more difficult with the language barrier (my rudimentary knowledge of French and German was to be of little use deciphering Greek), I left the arrival hall empty handed and joined Lance in the airport. I was officially in Athens, on holiday, reunited with my husband and a spectator at the Olympic Games. Jet lag and lost luggage were not a problem. The sun was hot, the sky was blue, and I was on vacation for the next eight days. I was not racing, which was poignantly clear in my complete freedom from anxiety about my luggage, my accommodation, my hydration or my feelings of fatigue. I was dazed and happy.

My first impressions were not all what I expected. I saw evidence of the Olympics as we drove towards Vouliagmeni, the triathlon venue and place we were staying. The roads were all freshly paved and black and there was a fast Olympic lane to drive in, the surrounding environment was dry, dusty and sparsely vegetated with shrubby silvery green leaved trees (olives). Everywhere was evidence of rubble, the whitish rock that is the foundation of Greece. The road led between storefronts and empty buildings, car dealerships and firewood stores, and everywhere lay the empty shells of half built abandoned structures. Almost every second building was unfinished, as if ambition to build, to start, was all that mattered. Concrete shells of two and three story buildings were littered everywhere, like a bombed out landscape, although these were merely abandoned starts, not fallen down rubble. It was hard to fathom the feeling of looking at all these ugly skeletons of houses, why they are allowed to exist and why people are allowed to abandon such projects, leaving eyesores littered along the streets and over the arid but beautiful Mediterranean hills. As the week progressed and this empty building phenomena became a discussion point, the theory emerged that there was some tax break in starting new house projects, so developers started buildings that they never had any intention of finishing, and also that the huge rush to complete Olympic venues created a massive shortage of builders and tradesman for regular projects. Whatever the reason, the appearance that these buildings gave the area surrounding Athens was a constant source of bewilderment to Canadians I was traveling with.


From time to time, I will post excerpts from my extensive travelling journals.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Today it is two weeks since I ran the New York City Marathon. To mark the occasion I went for a 20 minute unscheduled run. I ran just as it was getting dark, a bright wedge of moon slung in the sky, and I felt great. It's been a good rest. I didn't do much but walk and a few pool runs for a whole week, then I gradually started running a bit this week, keeping it very light and very short.
I don't think Lance figures I can last more that about two weeks without running or training anyway. He almost fell off the sofa when I said I was going to take a big break after NYC. "That'll last about 2 weeks"' he laughed.
But I am not going to launch into full training tomorrow. I am going to be clever and take my downtime from training and racing. It is definitely something I have had to practice. Resting while I was pregnant was easy, but resting for the sake of resting has taken some work. I'm very good at hanging up the bike and extremely good and letting the bathing suit dry out, but stopping running? That just feels plain unnatural.
I won't race for a while and in another couple of weeks, I will start building into longer endurance runs and increasing my volume. I was talking to a young athlete in the triathlon development squad and he mentioned, with a big smile, how excited he was for next season. I thought that was great. Even though the excitement was not focussed at any one race, he felt hopeful and positive about racing after a winter of training.
Sometimes unfocussed enthusiasm and joy for what you do is important. That's why I went and ran tonight. Not because I was training for anything in particular, but because I wasn't training for anything in particular. It's great to have a part of the season where individual training sessions don't mean much, where you go run in an unstructured way (sometimes I leap up steep hills because it's fun, or break into sudden fast strides ), and just relax a bit from performance.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My New York Trip

I didn’t take my laptop to New York. I wanted to travel light, and to record my thoughts and observations with pen and paper, the way I started journaling my running, when I was a young girl. I wanted to pare my trip down to the essentials: my running shoes and orthotics, essential running gear, my heart open to possibilities. Faced with a lot of free time and down time (no kids, no training!) I wrote a lot over the weekend. Here are some of my reflections from new York.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The TRIP is finally here, the voyage to New York has begun with the issuing of boarding passes. I’m sitting in the afternoon sunlight, in the pleasant international boarding lounge of the Vancouver Airport. I love the silence and the softness of just sitting in a boarding lounge, waiting for the departure to new places. Even before I had children and life became so much more than my own path, I liked leaving for trips.

I have always loved the adventure of travelling and a life in sport has afforded me many such adventures. I chose sport because I was well suited to the training and attention to optimum health, the time spent outdoors and the competition. Life in high performance also means travelling and hotel rooms and strange food and cities. I have come to understand the layers now: that I love the challenge of having to arrive at a starting line many time zones away, and be prepared and ready to execute a perfect race or as near to perfect a performance as I can. In my career I can honestly say that I have enjoyed and felt grateful for the privilege that my hard work has given me; the chance to race as an elite athlete, the bonus of hotel rooms and flights to new cities, the opportunity to toe the front of the line.

One day I will miss the racing at the elite level, and can already appreciate the richness that it has brought to my life.

I said good bye to the children this morning, already missing them and already looking forward to my time to be a professional. The irreconcilable emotions of motherhood.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The lobby of the Hilton is like Grand Central Station: huge and noisy. It is a circular room, and lined with rose coloured marble. It is busy and bustling and not cold at all. People are friendly here in New York this time, maybe excited, like I am for the start of the marathon. Walking across the Avenue of the Americas, someone holds the door of Starbucks open for me, people make small talk in the elevator. My room is on the 39th floor and from my room I can clearly hear the continuous intermittent honking of horns, the rush of traffic, the sirens, the blasting whistle of the bellman as he calls in a never ending demand for taxis. When I look down I see the tops of yellow cabs, stuck at intersections, moving right and left again. It’s all fabulous. it's a world away from my home in Victoria, where all we here is the wind. It’s New York.

I am being treated very well. The New York Road Runners are adept and practiced at putting on events and taking care of elite athletes. The best in the world come to race here and to win, and all their needs are anticipated. Before I even raced, I was given gifts. A shoulder bag filled with goodies that I shall cherish, inlcuding an engraved pen from Tiffanies. You’d think that by now I wouldn’t care so much about getting race gear, but I still like it!

In the elevator (and I’m in there for a few moments as it rised from the Lobby to the 39th floor), there is a small television screen playing an endless loop of the ING promotional video of the marathon. They have a runner’s eye view of the marathon course, speeded up so that you see the whole course in about 5 minutes. It’s awesome, though it makes some people dizzy; I don’t have time to see the course, but this gives a visual picture of the streets we will run through.

It’s so quiet in my room with the king size bed. No singing or laughing, or wrestling or dancing to music. No Hotwheels cars. I like it, this time on my own, but now and then, from nowhere, a loneliness rises up from deep inside me. Love for Maia and Ross and Lance floods into my heart. I look out the window to the high-rises of Manhattan and I can’t wait for race day.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A quiet day, trying to find a balance between staying off my feet and resting, and getting a little light activity. I don’t like feeling stiff from lying about watching TV all day. I went for an easy run in the morning, at the tail end of the Olympic Marathon Trials for US men. It was hard to run anywhere. The sidewalks were packed with Saturday morning shoppers and spectators returning from watching the race. Central park was likewise crammed with people and many roads were blocked. I jogged along lightly, dodging pedestrians and trees, trying to get some sense of rhythm. The thing about NYC is that there are so many people in this place, they are everywhere, on every street, in every shop. Nothing, and nowhere seems to be devoid of life. It’s sort of nice really. Humanity.

At breakfast the rumours started. Questions and quiet talk about a tragedy, possibly a death in the marathon that morning. By mid afternoon, the rumours were confirmed that Ryan Shay, one of the promising young American runners, had died after a collapse at the 5mile mark. I did not know Shay, but it was quite shocking and one of those moments in life when you realize, yet again, how precious our time is. We were told to be strong, to race in the morning with life and joy as that is what he would have wanted, but there were close friends of Ryan’s in the race and I know this was not going to be easy for them. It felt strangely familiar to be looking at death while amid such life. Emily Mondor's tragic death last year before the National 10k Championships, Benny Van Steelant passing away right before Long Distance World Duathlon Championships in October.

I spent a long time at dinner, getting my carbs in, but catching up with Bruce and Rosemary Deacon, just chatting and laughing about running and life and children.

Later, I sat in my room, going over my morning routine, visualizing how I wanted to feel when I woke up, checking and re-checking that all the clocks were ready for the time change.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Coming Down from the Runner's High

Well, that was pretty much the most fun I have ever had racing. It was definitely my most fun marathon experience even if it wasn't the fastest. I will have much more to say over the next few days but for now, here are the highlights of my weekend in Manhattan.

1. Riding the bus to the start with a police escort and seeing the Statue of Liberty standing way out in the bay.

2. All the helicopters and motorbikes and fire trucks everywhere. It seemed like every police officer and firefighter in the city was there.

3. Seeing Lance Armstrong's black SUV parked in the elite area and thinking about making funny faces in the tinted windows.

4. Starting on that massive bridge with really really loud music!

5. The music all along the course. All types. Loud and fun.

6. The masses of people everywhere, especially 1st Ave. and Central Park.

7. Running the bridges.

8. Hearing someone call me by my first name and seeing Peter Reid in the crowd at mile 14.

9. Then seeing Malaika!

10. Having the elite men's motorcade catch me from behind and feeling like I was running from the cops. Then watching these incredibly beautiful runners bound by effortlessly.

11. Running the last 2 miles on air in Central Park.

12. The last 400 yards!

13. The elated, bright and joyous feeling I got at the finish. I was moved and overcome with a feeling of life. I wanted to run those last 2 miles again.

14. The feeling of wonder, that at 40, I can still have this passion about running!


Monday, October 29, 2007

Ready for New York City
Starting the run at Ironman Canada 2007. That was hard!
It's been about ten years since I ran my last stand alone marathon. Over the course of five years in the early 90's I ran six marathons, posting a personal best at California International way back in 1992. When I was a young runner, in my teens, I remember thinking that I would run a marathon before I turned 24, so I guess that's why I did my first one in 1992: I was already a year overdue. There's something about having a firm conviction about what you want to do and finding a way to make it a reality.
Since that day in Sacremento, a lot has happened. (For one, when I went back in '94, my boyfriend proposed in the hotel room. That was Lance and that's another story). I turned away from marathons in '96, finding that my body couldn't handle the mileage required of world class marathoners, focusing instead on the wonderful intensity of cross country, the 5 and 10km events, and eventually discovered triathlon as a way to satisfy my desired lifestyle of combining being outdoors, competing at endurance events and cross training. In the last seven years I have raced three Ironmans and have given birth naturally to two children: at each of these events I swore at the time it was the hardest thing I have ever done. (In the moments after each of the first of these events I swore I would never do another--birth or Ironman). Some things just make you tougher.
So, at the beginning of this year, the year I turned 40, I got it in my brain that I was going to do another marathon. I knew it would have to be a fall marathon, after Ironman training was stashed away as foundation. I considered the Royal Victoria in my home town, but then as fate would have it, when I went to race at Freihofers 5k in June, I was invited back to New York for the marathon. Once the seed was planted there was no turning back in my mind. I had to do New York. In my long career, it was imperative to do New York, and to do it this year. I said yes.
I now I find myself staring down the last few days before this famous race. Soon I will be boarding a plane and flying from Victoria to JFK, will be making a room at the Hilton my race headquarters for a few nights, I will be hydrating and stretching and thinking about calories, what to wear and reviewing my pace plan.
Right now I feel excited and yet calm and intensely alive. I'm ready and I'm strongly aware of the poignancy of the occasion--my high performance career is winding down, maybe not with this race, but soon. I feel honoured to be heading out for this famous event that runs through 5 boroughs of the big apple city (I can't wait to hear the Gospel singes in Harlem!). I'm curious to put my endurance to the test--how will I feel now that I have raced those gruelling Ironman events where the discomfort goes on for hours? I have run so many more half marathons, good ones, and my training is light years smarter than it was in '92.
After all those early years of being anxious and nervous, of being worried about being good enough, the gifts that time has given me--the gifts of family and marriage and perspective--are with me now. I am going into this race clear headed and with a strong sense of joy. I can't wait. I've never felt more like a runner than at this moment and I know I'm tough enough!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cultivating a Calm and Joyful Mind

After twenty years in sport, I have a pretty good understanding of what physiological markers I need to reach in training in order to achieve certain goals in competition. I have never yet tired of the relentless pursuit of the perfect race, nor the simple act of putting on my shoes and going for a run in the woods. My life has changed immensely in the last seven years through the birth of my two children, and parenting has rewarded me with personal challenges outside sport beyond what I ever could have imagined.

What I love to work on now is the rewarding process of becoming an astute and balanced person while continually entering the high stress playing fields of competition. I practice cultivating a continuous calm and joyful mindset, a psychological state that is like happiness and contentment with the current moment, but is also manifest in a mental clarity that creates a stillness whether things are going really well, or very poorly. I’ve been through all the intense ups and downs of sport so many times I find solace in being able to remain confident and centred through everything that comes along. When things go wrong, I feel disappointment and then I move on. When I experience a win (or a 4th, as in my most recent World Duathlon Championships Result in Virginia), I smiled and laughed with the locals, then came home to my family in Victoria and resumed taking Maia to soccer, and watching planes with son Ross, equally important events in my life.

So, a good portion of my training energy is devoted to cultivating the kind of mindset that makes me feel good. How do I cultivate this feeling, this confidence? I use my time well. When I am training, I make a commitment to myself to put my best effort into each day, no matter how tired I am, or what has happened in my personal life. I contemplate how I feel when things are going well and the positive thoughts and attitude I have about myself, the world and my training. I work on eliminating negative self-talk, self- defeating behaviour and actions that sabotage success.

I like the discipline of training my body and my mind, of practicing how I am going to be confident and joyful on race day. The more I practice being confident in training sessions, the more easily that mind-ease surfaces on race day. I like getting to races ready to perform. I expect to be nervous before major competitions as this means that deep down, I care about what I do, but with my well of calm at my centre, the nervousness never becomes debilitating. I work to be free of worry and anxiety, to be able to focus on the process of running well. This practice serves me well, as when I arrive at a big event where the athletic stakes are higher, like a world championships, I have the comfort of knowing that all the strength and courage I need are right there in my soul.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Athletes and Artists: Not So Different!

I just came across another blog--this one about art and being creative. It's called Sixty Minute Artist, and the author has 4 kids and a full time job and needed to find a way to do art to stop himself from going crazy. So he finds sixty minutes each day to make progress on a painting.

hmmmm. Sounds like some other people I know. People who need to train each day to feel normal. hmmmm. Sounds like me.

So I read his latest post and it's about how to be a successful artist. This piqued my interest because I have always believed that there are similarities between athletes and artists and writers (and probably dancers, musicians, environmentalists and a whole lot of other similar people who have a passion for something.

He mentions that there are 3 things that make a successful artist.

1. Curiosity 2. Commitment 3. Good work habits

Now I am smiling. When I gave my Run For Joy talk at the marathon, I spoke about the many things I feel have been a huge part of my success and how we can all find personal success if we know what we are looking for. My top three were:

1. Overcoming personal barriers. 2. Commitment and dedication. 3. Creating joyful opportunities in racing and training.

My 2 is the same as his 2 and my 1 is the same as his 3. I would even say that my 3 is very close to his 1. Just a different way of saying it.

Curiosity, though. I like that word. It has got me thinking!


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"What to do with an old box, Idea #546": Make an Alien helmet. (unkl Dan photo)

What does this have to do with anything? The box started life holding the vase that I won for coming first in the Royal Victoria Half Marathon this last weekend. The kid inside is my son Ross. The cool alien helmet was made by his big sister Maia. This photo exemplifies how I balance my athletic professional life with my family.

In case anyone is wondering how I do it, here is the short version. I left the house at 6:30 am on Sunday morning. Ross was already up, and I left him with Janet, our super-sitter, reassuring him with the usual "mummy is going for a run." That always works. It was sort of late for a 7:30 start, but this is my home town and I was pretty sure I knew where to park even on race morning. I love the drive down Blanshard before a race. I get on the highway at Royal Oak, favourite music turned up loud and pretty soon I can tell the other runners' cars: caps, running jackets, people with Ironman Canada stickers on their back windshields. It's like the pre-race rally. I nailed my parking spot, 3 blocks from the Empress.

I was already sure I was going to have a great race. I am not exactly sure why this is so, except that I have never NOT had a great race in the city, and after years of practicing race preparation, my body just seems to go on positive thinking auto pilot on race morning.

Nevertheless I was a little nervous. I was a little nervous because I had set myself up with some extrinsic goals on top of my usual run out of sheer joy and fun attitude. I want to break my course record, and I had publicly stated that I want to break that Canadian Masters record. I want to win (I always want to win, I admit. I have felt this way since I was 5 and it just doesn't go away, even though I am 40, have kids and should know better).

I was nervous, because I had a pretty strange week as far as preparing for a race goes. After three easy and moderate weeks post Ironman Canada, I built into two very strong weeks of training, and felt awesome. At the end of that 2 weeks I performed an excellent training session consisting of a 2 and a half hour run with 80 minutes of strong tempo in the latter half of the run. I had to really commit to that run. It was hard but I was determined to make it happen. I was tired for a week after that training block and had to modify most of my sessions leading into the Half Marathon.

I had a busy week with the kids too, with Lance away at the Hawaii Ironman (catch his commentary on http://www.triathletemag.com/). They don't sleep well when he first goes away, and with soccer, swimming and everything else I was in full on kid mode most of the time.

In fact, I took the last 4 days before Sunday so easy that I knew I would be OK. It's one thing I know about myself, I race well when rested.

Despite the weather warnings, the morning was not cold, the wind was calm and the day was perfect for running. (that changed at about 10:30am, halfway through the race for the poor marathoners).

I can honestly say that after the horn sounded, I just ran. I ran as hard as I could and when it started to get uncomfortable at 11k, I told myself to be tough. With Ironman still fresh in my mind (that's 10 hours of tough and at least 5 hours of really really tough), I knew I could hurt for 40 more minutes, or 30, or 5). At one point I felt my right shoe slipping a little on my heel. "Oh rats, I thought. I didn't tighten my laces enough. Now my Achilles is hurting. What if I have to drop out so I don't injure myself?" I decided to stop thinking about it, as even thinking about it was slowing my pace down. I decided to cross that bridge when I got there--if it really did start hurting. Guess what? I forgot all about it. Though I will make a mental note to check my laces before longer races next time.

Coming back through Fairfield I ran past all the participants still heading out. Wow. The young guy I was running with began a conversation. I wasn't in the mood for talking but I told him my name was Lucy. He remarked, "I figured that out. It seems like everybody is cheering for you!"

With a kilometer to go, I glanced at my watch and saw 1:13 and change. That was good; I turned it up a notch. Coming around the Wax Museum into that finishing straight, I saw 1:15 on the clock and as I approached it turned over to 1:16. Knowing my course record was close, I just sprinted as fast as I could. I got the record by 1 second.

It was a good confidence booster for Worlds and New York City Marathon. Except that my legs were so sore. I could hardly cool down my legs were so sore. It's Tuesday now and they are still sore. That's another thing I know about myself. My legs get sore.

Well, the rest of the morning was just wonderful. The RVM is a world class event with world class atmosphere. I chatted with the PowerBar guys as I drank my post race recovery shake and watched them trying to enforce the 1 per athlete quota. I joined Silken Laumann, Alison Sydor and the rowers-on-fire Malcolm and Kevin for the kids run. I grabbed a beautiful latte from Mirage on Government, I finally spent my birthday gift certificate at Munroes Bookstore. Then I attended the awards ceremony, where I was graciously given the wonderful trophy vase and the BOX in which to carry it home.

Then I went home and spent the rest of the rainy afternoon indoor with my children.

I can't say enough good things about the organization of this race. Next year I REALLY want to run the marathon. Wouldn't that be awesome...the 2 mums out there. (Suzanne Evans, the multiple time winner of the marathon, has 2 children--and by the way, she deserved an equally large photo in the paper, and that's no slight to Steve O).


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday morning.

A silver green sea rolls in under the light gray sky and yellow leaves are scattered over the lawn, remnants of the first of the mild Victoria storms we get each autumn. Dark streaks of massed kelp and seaweed heave in the rolling waves and in the distance, San Juan Island is misted over.

I'm getting ready for my long run of the week, a run of over two and half hours of marathon training. It's been ten years since I trained for my last full marathon, though I have done three marathons in Ironman in this time. This distance training is tiring, more physically taxing on my body than Ironman, which is why, probably, I chose to divert my attention from marathoning back in 1996.

At 40, I feel so strongly that I must train and race this distance again. Running is my roots, it's in my blood, as they say. (Not far from the truth, as endurance running has a lot to do with blood and oxygen.)

It's tiring work, but challenging and exciting and as I run through the autumn trails, the leaves plastered to the wet earth, my mind will be calm and my thoughts will be joyful.

How many millions of steps have I run in my life?


Friday, September 28, 2007

Ironman Canada has faded into the past already. It was a wonderful weekend, an adventure of a race and a true challenge.
I knew on Richter Pass, when Lance passed me, that it wasn't my day. I usually motor up Richter Pass, but that day I was awkward and dragging. The funny thing was, it didn't get me down at all. For the first time in Ironman, I wasn't scared of the distance. I knew I could still race 180k on a tough day. It was still a great day; it's not everyday you get to race 180k on your bike. Training for and executing Ironman is the feat, as far as I am concerned and I am proud of my 2 top ten finishes there.
So, Ironman was over and I threw myself into the last remaining days of summer before Maia started grade 2. Day trips to the beach, the annual fair, camping...we had a ball.
And then during my three week recovery, I dreamed up the remainder of my season. All along I had the intention of making my 40 year a good one.

I have three more races this year, three more races in 6 weeks. A pretty aggressive schedule by any account, but I race with my heart! First I get to race a half marathon in Victoria, my home town. Nothing beats this. Next I go somewhere I never have gone before--Richmond, Virginia--for the World Long Distance Duathlon Championship. It all culminates with the race of all races, an event I dreamed of doing as youngster, the New York City Marathon! November 4th, New York City. I am in the elite women's field, we start 30 minutes ahead of the thousands. I am excited!


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Saanich Fair, Victoria

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dan Smith photo

Picture by Maia Watson, age 7

By the time Ironman Canada started, I had read and heard many quotes and inspiring comments, sayings that are meant to give us the fortitude to continue when the day gets hard and when outcomes are not meeting expectations. Lori Bowden's basic reality check is one of my facourites: Sometimes you have to finish what you started. There are worst things in life than having a bad Ironman. And we've all seen the hand written signs on the bike course: If it was easy, everyone would do it.

But there were a few other ones out there that made me laugh. The woman holding a sign over her apparently naked body: Looking for a husband. (Like, as if some guy is actually going to stop climbing up Yellow Lake...). And: Smile if you peed on the bike. (You really want to know?).

It's not so much what the signs say, but what they mean. I have never been in a sport where the fans put so much effort into spectating! For a supporter, just getting out on the bike course alone is at least a six hour commitment to driving slowly in traffic, standing in the sun, waiting again in traffic. People are out in the early morning chalking the roads, and some are busy for a week creating signs for their loved ones (and t-shirts!). I love it. And most of them have a sense of humour, as if, despite the intensity and magnitude of Ironman, we all share some secret joke about maintining some sort of perspective. After all, we all choose (and pay lots of money) to put ourselves through the day. It feels a little silly to be having anything but a good time.

After this weekend in Penticton, I have decided that Ironman is really just summer camp for adults. The atmosphere is adventurous, energized, and fun. People are challenging themselves to try something they are either scared or excited to do, or both. After the swim clinic Lance and I gave on the beach, I talked to a woman who was racing Ironman for the first time. We talked about her fears for the swim, and she was crying, she was so scared. Well, she was crying, but also smiling, because she was really pushing her comfort level by being there. I assured her that she didn't have to do the swim perfectly, but just do it as well as she could.

There is something about the challenge of Ironman that really makes people feel alive. There is an intense anticipation for the day, and a lot of the nervousness comes out as humour as people try to alleviated their fears. That's what the underpants run is for, isn't it?

And speaking of humour, have you ever read through the entrants list? I spent a good half hour giggling my way through the 'occupations' section of the list. I had just been glancing through some names, when I noticed the 'Grim Reaper' was entered. After a few moments I felt like a deadbeat for listing my occupation as 'coach, mother, writer'. I was racing with accountants and teachers, but also apparently, a 'soil redistribution engineer', an 'idler', one or two 'sandbaggers', and a 'lifelover'. Yup, people in this sport have a great sense of fun.

coming next....my race day report.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Getting Ready for Ironman Canada: the BIG Picture

One of my favourite kids books is called A Hole is To Dig. It is a book of simple definitions, written in 1952 by Ruth Kraus and illustrated by Maurice Sendak (most well known for the children's classic, Where the Wild Things Are). It is full of wonderful things that only children can teach us to appreciate again. Things like: "Parties are to make children happy", and "Toes are to wiggle". The answer to "What is a moutain?" is quite naturally, "A mountain is to go to the top...a mountain is to go to the bottom."

As I go into this last week before Ironman Canada, as I prepare for this mammoth undertaking that seems as insanely full of details as an Everest expedition, each one quite important for race day, I am also making sure that once I start the race on Sunday morning, I have my own clear definition for why I do what I do:

What is an Ironman (and why am I doing it?)

Fundamentally, I personally need to know the answer, the real honest reason I am undertaking this trip. Maybe I am too philosophical, but philosphy has always pulled me through.

I have come to understand that my racing involves three levels of preparation:

First there is the obvious physical preparation, training for the distance without which I would not get over Richter Pass. Learning the nutrition and hydration specific to Ironman took a tremendous level of commitment and involvement that will be crucial to my race day success.

Then there is creating the opportunity to race to my physical potential. This is where sports psychology comes in. I use mental preparation strategies to develop a game plan for the week before Ironman, and a lot of positive visualization to tackle the length of the actual race.

When I have completed the training to the best of my ability I enter my taper week and accept that I will be as ready as I can be. I don't waste energy second guessing my training. It's done. I put my energy into taking care of the race details and getting my mind wrapped around the process of executing the race.

In the calmness and confidence that comes from being mentally and physically prepared for a goal, my intentions (intentions that have been hovering in the background of my consciousness) make themselves joyfully known. I race because I love the test of racing. I race because it makes me feel good about myself and my life. I race because it connects me to a community that shares similar values. I race because for the hours I am out there, I can focus on one thing that I do well, my mind free and uncluttered from the paying of bills, the car repairs, the laundry. Finishing, winning, running a 3 hour marathon: these things might be my goals, but my purpose is to race.

After all the calories are calculated, the bags are packed, the tires pumped and goggles adjusted, the cannon thunders into the morning and I enter the zone called 'race day'.

Deep into the race, with so many hours to talk myself through this test of endurance and with so many hours to experience discomfort, joy, agony, elation, pain, and everything else that happens out there, it's nice to know that deep in my subconscious, I am happy that I am where I am. Not only am I happy, but I am sure of my reasons for being there.

What is an Ironman? An Ironman is to race.

We all have different reasons for being out there. Know yours. Know it well.

What's your definition?

See you out there!


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

To ride the Similkameen Valley, on the Ironman Canada course, is one of the many gifts that make this career rewarding. The dry, mostly bare hills are a fascinating study in the many shades of green and grey that make up this part of the country. In the distance valleys, mountains and rocky bluffs overlap in endless layers. When there is no traffic, you can hear the hanging road signs creaking as they swing in the wind. The squeaking chains reminds me of a ghost town sound effect, something from the remote wild west. I feel totally alone when I hear that sound, and it reminds me of the greatness of my personal dreams.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Penticton, August 7, 2007

Here we are again, at the playground of Penticton. We rolled into town around 5 o'clock last evening, taking a short pitstop at the Save on Foods for supplies before checking into the Golden Sands on Lakeshore drive. The drive was smooth, Ross slept most of the way from the ferry to Princeton, Maia happily watched a few movies, and all the cars seemed to be going in the other direction. (All the speed traps were west bound too: we saw at least half a dozen tickets being given out).

It's three week to Ironman Canada and this is my last big week of training for another crack on that course. Last year, when I ran in for my 8th place pro finish, I decided I had to come back and do it better. On all accounts, I believe I have done a better job of preparing this year. My long runs have been longer and stronger, I have made major changes to my nutrition plans and electrolyte replacement strategy, and I have been able to race and train over Richter and the long stretch to Yellow Lake several times. Most of all, continuing into a 2nd consecutive season of Ironman training, (it's hard to beleive that it was only '04-'05 that I was in pregnancy mode) has made the sheer volume of miles feels manageable, instead of merely insane.

It has been an eventful summer of training, children, Lance's own training for Ironman Canada, and trying to focus on the task and goal while thoughts of my future career plans continue to grow in my mind. But here I am now, in Ironman country, getting ready for a 6 hour ride, which by all accounts, is one of the most beautiful rides I have ever done. There will be points today where I look around and feel lucky to be able to what I do. There will be points where I think about my long career with wistfulness as I know I am going to be moving on to another chapter soon. But for the most part, I will be riding, mindful only of my pedals stokes, immersed in the moments of pure sport.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Am I really smiling that wide? It seemed so tough at the time!

What went through my mind while racing the Desert Half Ironman and Canadian Long Course Triathlon Championships, July 8th 2007:

At the 16k mark of the run, I am still in 2nd. I tell myself, you can mix it up with the world’s best at an international 5k road race, you can definitely run your way into first here. C’mon, 5k to go; run like you know you can. Be a runner.

Thinking about Greg Bennett and Brent McMahon and Simon Whitfield and all the great triathlete runners I trained with at the National Training Centre with coaches Lance Watson and Paul Regensburg before Athens. Greg, with his trademark high heels stride, would always be so jovial and funny during warm ups and cool downs, keeping up a running commentary a la Phil Ligget as if we were in the last 600m of the Olympic 10 000m final…. “And here comes Smith, pushing the pace, but Bennet responds, unleashing a confident surge, Smith pushes back with a fury that the mighty Australian can't match”….I’m smiling at these memories and it relaxes me, helping me run more efficiently.

“50 quick steps”. The words of husband and coach Lance Watson, and all of our pre-race talks over the years, things to draw on when the going gets tough. I head into each corner, putting in 50 quick steps, trying to draw out my lead so I can relax.

And then the ridiculous bargaining with myself, which in the heat (literally) of the race, makes me laugh, as it’s so inane. “Finish this one off and you don’t have to do Ironman Canada.” “Win this one last Canadian Championship and you can retire”. Even I, in my fatigued discomfort am not so delirious to believe any of this for one moment, and have to chuckle at the craziness of a sport that makes you start negotiating for pleasure because it’s so tough.

Racing in the Okanagan, Family in Tow

I opted for the Osoyoos race particularly because I wanted to race and attempt a win at a National Triathlon Championships, because the Desert Half is a really good race in a really beautiful part of the country, and because it was a great chance for Lance and I to get away with Maia and Ross on a summer holiday.

In the course of three days, we drove to the Okanagan, ate cherries, played rounds of mini golf (7 year old Maia regularly scores higher than I do by the way), swam in the lake, went out on a motor boat, played on bumper boats, and I raced and successfully defended my title at Joe and Sarah Dixon’s Desert Half Ironman.

On race morning, everyone the whole family woke with me at 5AM, so we had a pre-race breakfast party, with Ross on my lap and Maia and Lance beside me on the sofa. Then it was time to say good bye and head to transition to get prepared.

Not having done quite enough swim training on account of my own unique parenting priorities, and the fabulous May-June road running trips I did, I set my goals in the swim as “keeping my turnover high, my focus steady and to sight smoothly”. I have always had a tendency to need to see too much where I am going in the swim. I am not sure if this is an extension of my own personality to always need to know what’s going on, or as a result of a more specific human need to feel grounded out in open water, even if that means being able to lock onto a big orange buoy 500m meters away. In any case, my biggest challenge as a triathlete (outside of the small detail of just swimming faster), has always been to swim a course well, from sighting smoothly, to drafting efficiently, and staying on course.

I usually feel happy in the swim, especially after the frenetic start is over. I love swimming surrounded by other athletes; I enjoy being in a sport that starts with a swim in a lake while the sun is rising in the sky. During the middle portion of the swim while I am immersed in my own internal focus on swimming well, pulling and rotating and relaxing my shoulders, I become acutely aware of the rhythmical quality and sounds of swimming. 1,2,3 breath, 1,2,3 breath, gurgle splash, splash, splash, gurgle splash, splash, splash. My ears are filled with watery sounds and the athletic world is muffled in the lake.

With the swim completed, I hurried my way to transition, eager to start the bike, eager to start eating into the big deficit that I know I created by a not so fast swim time. Once on the bike, I headed for the hills like a horse, pushing for the first climb up Richter Pass and my chance to make up some time. I love the climb of Richter Pass, the steady cadence of cycling uphill. (Maybe I just love being on my bike period, doing something I know I can do well.)

The bike this year didn’t feel quite as easy or powerful as last year’s ride. I could say it was the wind, which was a big factor in this year’s race by all accounts as we seemed to have headwind both out and back up the hill! I have no excuses, except that I suspect that I am not quite as well trained this year. Last year, Ross was still a little baby, sleeping a lot and fairly immobile and I was keen to get back to racing form. This year he is an active toddler, has stopped his regular naps and I don’t take much rest or recovery time, preferring to explore the world with him when I am not on my bike or laced into running shoes.

I decided to pace myself on the bike, to be careful of doing a 'Lucy' and burning it all up in the first 40k of the course. To take a more tactical and patient approach to the race and use my skill-set well. Seeing Lance and the kids out in the car at various points on the course gave me a boost. I saw him outside a fruit market, holding a bag of cherries in one arm and Ross in the other. After a blustery go of it out to Cawston and the turn around, in which my thoughts wandered occasionally off on the tangent of being a 40 year old woman with two children in a sport that has pretty much redefined what getting old means, I hit the backside of Richter with energy to climb well and to take a bit more bite out of the time between me and the (unknown) competition up ahead.

I came into transition 6 minutes down this year, and I ran out into the heat of the day feeling a little like that was an insurmountable goal to reach. However, in my triathlon memory bank, are all the races that I have won from behind, from patiently and strategically using my run off the bike to pull the leaders back. While I race most duathlons and road races from the front, I relish the challenge to having to make up a gap.

I ran up past Yvonne Timewell first, who gave me tremendous unflagging support on the out and back course. As far as she was concerned I was “Going to CATCH those GIRLS!”. Ok, I said to myself. I was running well, and I wasn’t dead, but my legs didn’t have the ‘fire’ in them that they had last year.

It took 17km of really focused running and a lot of positive mental pep talks to catch the lead woman, with a lot of that time spent wondering if I would catch her at all. All along I knew that I couldn't give up on the desire to reel her in, as everything can change so much in the last half of the race. Lance, and the rest of the field seemed to me sure that I would catch first place as well. It is a 2 loop out and back course so you see the same faces a few times and each time the same people would yell at me, as they ran by.

“She’s just up the road! You’re going to catch her for sure!” Although I never could see her “just up ahead” I figure so many people can’t be wrong and I think that the absolute certainty in their earnest encouragement helped me to believe that I would reel her in.

And there she was, finally, around the 16km mark. I spied Rosemarie Gerspacher’s back, and it was game over. Of course once I took over the lead, a new fear crept in. “What if someone runs up to ME from behind?”. So that old familiar feeling of running like a rabbit came over me, I pulled in my road racing skills—quick corners to get a few steps up, quick feet, fast water stops—and couldn’t relax until I was only metres away from the finish line and that is when and I knew that I had won my 19th Canadian Championship title and my first Triathlon Championships, and that is the end of another great day in sport.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A little bit about turning 40 and being an athlete.

I wrote this entry shortly after turning 40 on a weekend in April. In some ways it's a dedication to the community in which I live. It is also a celebration of running and being able to do something I love. And the photo above was taken by my friend Geoff. www.geoffwilkings.com.

The Race season has officially begun. I know because yesterday afternoon I was standing in the ocean icing my legs in the frigid 8 degree waters of the Straight of Georgia. There is a set of stairs at the end of our lane, 66 worn and well used concrete steps that leads straight into the ocean at high tide. After hard racing and training days, I throw on my puffy down jacket and shorts, take my recovery drink down there and stand amongts the scuttling little crabs and flotsam and floating shreds of seaweeed.

I wade in up to the top of my thighs and the first 3 minutes are the most excrutiating and uncomforable minutes of all my training. The cold actually hurts and makes my insides constrict with tension. I tell myself to be tough and I stare fiercely at the designs the branchs of the Garry Oak makes against the sky, I watch the diving ducks, I search for eagles, I drink my drink, I drink in the amazing surface of the ocean view you get when standing in the ocean. I grit my teeth against the numbing cold against my legs and tell myself how good this is for recovery, and suddenly the horrendous shock of the cold water dissipates somewhat. I am not so uncomfortable as my legs feel sort of warm and numb and I am able to just relax for the remaining 7 minutes of ocean recovery.

Sometimes walkers come wandering down the steps and see me there in the ocean, standing there with the shorts and big coat. I give them a friendly smile and look back out to the ducks. They usually go back up the stairs then, as if venturing any farther towards this crazy peson standing in the ocaen might be dangerous to their health. I stay there, pacing back and forth, watching the way the rocks look underneath the clear sea, trying not to trip and fall in (oh, that would be so cold) and then my ten mintues is up and I stiffly pull my body back up the 66 steps to higher ground.

Later in the evening, as I sat watching the play off game between the Canucks and the Ducks with my husband Lance and our two children Maia and Ross, I helped myself to a piece of my leftover birthday cake, and I celebrated the end of a great weekend.

The weekend started on Friday night with a celebration for my 40th birthday and ended with my 6th Garden City 10k victory. As one TV reported said after the race, there were three significant numbers to the weekend: 40, 6 and 1. There was something else significant to the weekend: and that is the gratitude I feel for being surrounded by friends and joy in this beautfiful city of ours.

Sunday morning dawned clear and sunny, if a little chilly. I walked from my car to the start line, feeling calm and happy as I passed teams of runners doing warm up stretches and families with baby joggers and vendors setting up for the street festival post race. I passed the ever impressive ivy colured Empress Hotel on the inner harbour and the legislature buildings that face it on the other side of the harbour. I did my warm up routine on my own, jogging easily through the flowers and blossoms of Beacon Hill park.

As the race started, there was quite a crowd lining the streets and I was certainly pumped up. I started quite fast, hitting the first corner tucked right into the lead pack of men. As far as races go, this race was quite uneventful competitively, as I was well ahead of the other women from the first kilometre and had found my group of male runners to race with. I ran hard and found the windy stretches quite a challenge. I stayed relaxed and efficient through the last ten minutes of the race.

What makes this race such a fun one for me, is the energy and familiarity of the crowd. Victoria is a small city and after living here for 7 years I now have a big circle of friends: there are the close ones…the 40+ people who dropped into my birthday party on Friday…and then there are the thousands of athlete and runners who are a vital part of my community. Over the past few years I have spoken to hundreds of runners and walkers in clinics and many many come up to me in the street, at the store or before races and say hello. I have heard people’s stories and listened to their athletic questions and dreams. I have felt inspired by their enthusiasm, as they are inspired by my love of running.

When I turn around at the 5 km mark out at Ross Bay and start racing back towards town, I notice the sea of runners snaking along Dallas Road. While I am running on my own in the whole left lane, the other side of the road is one mass of athletes, a crowd of humans out celebrating life and health.

And then the cheers begin and while I can’t acknowledge every face in the crowd I hear them all. All the way from Ross Bay back to Mile 0 and the Terry Fox Statue I hear, Go LUCY! Way to go Girl! Lucy! LUCY! GO GO Lucy!

No wonder I smile. I feel like the luckiest runner in the universe. Not only do I get to do what I love doing most of all, which is running fast, I get to do it on my 40th birthday, in the sun, along a scenic and gorgeous ocean front race course, surrounded by thousands of friends and an abundance of joy. I feel honoured to race in front of such a crowd of enthusastic people.

I had a wonderful day at the race today....I felt honoured to be able to do something I love so much, again surrounded by friends and joy!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Pictures from early season road races.

Below, finding a groove at the Nordion 10k, Ottawa, May 25th.
1st Canadian, 1st master, 6th overall. 34:45

Moving it up a gear for the 5k, at Freihofers Run for Women, Albany, NY. June 2
1st Masters, 11th overall. 16:32

I've had my eye on the Freihofers race for a few years. I love all-women's events, I love being on the east coast (must be my Bluenoser roots) and I love the feel of the big US road races. Last year was too close to Ross being born, and I didn't feel in shape for a trip all the way across the continent, but this year, things lined up. First, I was feeling strong again after racing a triathlon season in '06, and I just turned 40 which has opened up the whole masters competition for me.
And I have always wanted to take Maia to New York so this seemed like a really neat opportunity for the two of us to take a trip together and for me to share with Maia just what my professional life looks like when I am on the road.
For the first two days of our trip, Maia and I stayed at the Crowne Plaza in Albany, New York, and we met all sorts of great people connected with the race. The morning after we got in, I was scheduled to talk to a bunch of kids at an elementary school. When we arrvied at East Lebanon school all the kids from grades 1-5 were seated in the gym and I spent a lively half hour talking about being a professional athlete and explaining how much satisfaction I get from doing something I love so much. Maia was a great help, choosing students to ask questions. Being around kids is such a rush!
The volunteers in the elite athlete hospitality suite took good care of us and later on looked after Maia while I went for a run with my new friend, Jonh, a local runner. When I came back from the run, Maia had made me a thank you card:
thang you
To Mum
you for bringing
me to Nu ork
if you wor
not a aflyt
we wod not be in Nu ork
You are good to Be a aflyt
Love Maia

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

It's now almost the middle of June, the days are long and bright and every morning for the last week, the sand and beach have been beckoning us as Maia finishes grade one.

I have raced in Victoria, Ottawa, Spokane, WA and Albany, New York since turning 40 in April, going 4 for 4 with Masters wins. It's been fun, and going to the Freihofer's 5k in Albany was really superb. (see the news story posted on http://www.lifesport.ca/. Freihofer's is a run for women, with a world class elite field, and 3000 more women, running solo or on sister-sister, mother-daughter and other teams. I spoke to a whole elementary school the first morning I was there, about being active and having a professional career. I had to demonstrate my skills by running as fast as I could around the gym.

Race morning was sunny, humid and exciting. With an uphill start and a flying downhill finish, I had to pull out all the stops to beat the Russian and American women also in the masters field. I was happy with my 16:32 and 11th finish overall in a race won in 15:23.

Maia came with me to New York and after the race in Albany, together we rode trains, took yellow taxi cabs in the rain from Grand Central station, and walked 5th Avenue. We browsed Tiffanies, where we had to ask the price of the diamonds as they are not displayed($1500-150 000), and looked in the glitzy foyer of the Donald Trump tower. Maia played on the expansive floor piano at FAO Schwartz. What I will remember from the trip, more than the images of NYC, is the banana bread we bought each day in the food hall of Grand Central, before the train ride on the Hartford line to our friends in Connecticut, and endless word and drawing games we played while taking the planes, taxis and sitting in waiting lounges.

2 days after coming back to Victoria, Maia turned 7 years old. The birthday party on a rainy day concluded with a fun bout of shaving cream foam in the back yard.

Thursday, January 11, 2007