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 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.