Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Run

Over the past few weeks, my training schedule has been almost exclusively running as I gear up for the Royal Victoria Half Marathon on October 11. This running “intensive” has been great, but it has lead me to yet another realisation as to why I like triathlon so much – you don’t necessarily run every day – you get to break it up with some swimming and, you guessed it, biking. I find having the variety of 3 different sports to work on really does help keep things interesting for me.

That said, this post is about the run....

I always think of the run as my weakest sport, and while this may not necessarily be true, I think I feel this way because it has never been able to top the swim or the bike as my favourite. I sometimes wonder how many people out there are like me... at one point in time you would have heard me muttering under my breath ‘I hate running’ as I laboured through a 30 minute run. Now, a few short years down the road, I find myself craving a nice long outing, feeling antsy when I haven’t run in a few days, excited to read the latest slew of running magazines to hit the shelves, truly understanding the addictive qualities of ‘the run’.

This weekend Kirsten and I suited up for our last ‘long’ run before marathon weekend. We headed out on the race course on a beautiful sunny day and tackled the middle 16k of the route... and, you know, it felt good - really good. I'm ready for October 11th and excited to try and beat my PB. There was a time however that if you told me to run for 40 minutes, (let alone an hour and 40), I would have thought it impossible. In fact, one of my favourite quotes (I think I read it in a New Balance ad?) was “I love that my short runs used to be my long runs” – a statement that couldn’t be more true. Actually, come to think of it, New Balance has pretty much summed up my thoughts on running brilliantly with their love/hate campaign.

So, while I have moments of strong dislike (I won’t use the ‘H’ word anymore) toward the run, I’ve actually really enjoyed this period of running, running and more running. It has given me the time to focus on and hopefully better myself in a sport I’ve often viewed as my weak spot. Slowly but surely I am becoming more aware of pacing and cadence – counting strike rates on a daily basis. I think about my A’s, my B’s and even my C’s. I lunge, I stride and I even sprint up hills... and from time to time, I even turn off my brain and well, just run.

Oh the run, the glorious run.

Oh, and last but not least, another great thing about all this running is the extra time I get to spend with my favourite little run buddy – Rusty. His motivation never falters, as soon as he sees my running gear or a pair of ankle socks pulled out of the drawer, he’s fired up and ready to go... sometimes I wish I could harness his energy and excitement.

Monday, September 21, 2009

And so it begins… (Officially, unofficially and everything in between?)

I suppose August 30th 2009 was the “official” start of my bid for Ironman…

Kirsten and I set out early on what would be a bit of a whirlwind trip to Penticton. We boarded a quiet 7am ferry (the same time competitors in IMC 2009 were hitting the water) and before we knew it were on the mainland and starting our drive. To me, the drive actually felt like it went pretty quick (aside from one small detour through New Westminster when I missed the turn off to Hope – how I managed that, I do not know).

Soon enough we were turning off the Keremeos by-pass road and driving alongside the cyclists competing in IMC 2009. It was actually quite fun as we were stop and go the rest of our drive and got to see the competitors conquer the climb to Yellow Lake and the subsequent decent back into town. Some people looked great; some… well, not so much. Next year, even if I don’t look great, I hope to at least have a hint of a smile on my face as I ascend the last “mountain” on the bike.

The rest of the day included a lot of clapping and cheering and admiration for all the brave souls out on the course.

I didn’t sleep much that night and we were up early (4am) on the 31st to head down to Okanagan Park to register. Penticton is one quiet (and warm – 18 Celsius) town in the middle of the night. We were the first of the “non-tenters” to get in line – so probably somewhere between 30th and 50th overall I would guess (thank you to Doug and Di for the very comfy lawn chairs). We chatted with a somewhat abrasive woman from Olympia who had competed in 9 previous Ironman races (she actually turned out to be quite nice, just a little jarring first thing in the morning), watched the line grow and patiently waited (something we would end up doing a lot on this day). The line started moving at 6:30am (much earlier than anticipated as registration wasn’t supposed to open until 9am). We made it into the registration tent thinking it was almost our turn, but volunteers get to register first, so we then waited (now inside the registration tent) for another 2 hrs or so….

And then… and then finally it was my turn!

Kirsten was very gracious and let me go first. I was quite excited as I sat down with Helen from Ironman to complete the process. Of course (as this year has gone), there had to be a minor hiccup and the computer froze during my registration. Kirsten was now done her registration, so we both – you guessed it – waited some more for Helen to figure out what to do. Since she didn’t want to do the registration again and accidentally charge me twice, I was assured that everything was fine and sent on my way. I knew it would be okay and that they wouldn’t deny my registration, but seeing everyone else walk out the door with a confirmation number and me with an email address of someone I didn’t know, I was a little unnerved and emotional. (Poor Kirsten… I’m sorry to you how panicked I was about it that morning).

I’m not sure if it’s because I was so tired, or just everything it took to even get to this point, but I felt pretty emotional the whole day.

I suppose that takes me to what was probably the ‘unofficial’ start of this journey.

May 16th 2009. A day I don’t think I will ever forget (nor do I want to) and a day I think has changed me forever. Those who know me will know that in the wee hours of May 16th I was diagnosed with an unprovoked (and still unexplained) pulmonary embolism – a blood clot in my lung.

As this is a blog about my bid for Ironman, I don’t want to make it too much about my illness/injury (I’m never quite sure what to call it) but I don’t think it can go unmentioned, as it has shaped my life greatly over the last 4/5 months. That said, while this will be a long post about my PE, I’m hoping it will also be the last.

I kept a bit of a diary over the past few months that I wasn’t sure I would ever share, but think I am now ready. Below is an excerpt I began writing in June.

Life is so unexpected. We take it for granted. I take it for granted. If you asked me on the morning of May 15th what I thought I would be doing now, it would have been a simple answer, training for the next triathlon and going about the usual work week. I was hurting a little that morning, my chest ached a bit and my breathing was slightly laboured, but I thought it was nothing more than a little over-training or anxiety of the race ahead. Nothing an early morning swim couldn’t cure... when my butt muscle started aching in the pool I worried a little more, but more for the fact that the race was so near and I thought I was psyching myself out (you know, maybe deep in my mind I was inventing physical excuses for if I did bad on race day). I love being able to call myself a triathlete, and while I may never be world class or even tops in my age group, I take my training seriously and really love each and every workout - even if some days I didn’t feel like doing them at the beginning. I was so nervous for the race and yet so excited at the same time. 6 months of training, 6 months of dedication to one goal, to pushing my body to its limits, to proving to myself and everyone that I could do it.

To jolt awake in the middle of the night, with a pain so torturous and indescribable. To have this feeling of helplessness wash over you, to know that something is truly wrong. I wanted to go back to sleep, to ignore it, but I couldn’t. “Shane, I think I need to go to the hospital.” Words that I’m sure Shane never wants to hear from me again. Those moments that felt like I could never forget them are starting to blur a little now. The decision – call 911 or drive. Drive. Down the stairs. Walking half bent. The pain. A concerned Rusty following us. The pain. I can’t be sure but I believe he gave my face a little lick. The walk to the car. The panic. The pain. The drive. By the time we got to the hospital I felt a little more relaxed. We had made it there and now I knew I was going to get help. To hopefully get answers. Chest pains – the magic words in an ER. There wasn’t much waiting around. It was about 2am. Within about 20 minutes I was having my ECG. My heart was good. So... what next? Well, now that they knew my heart was fine, there was a little more waiting. Waiting for a chest x-ray, some blood tests. In my mind I thought I had a collapsed lung. Of course I thought, “well, if I’ve been training like this, I’ll still be able to race even if my lung isn’t 100%.” Unfortunately it wasn’t that. The x-ray was fine, but my blood tests came back that I could potentially have a blood clot in my lung. “This test produces a lot of false positives” the doctor told us. To be safe, I needed a CT scan of my chest and my very first shot of heparin, a blood thinner I would come to know very well over the next few weeks. I was scared, I know it now, but at the time I don’t think I really realized it was true or how serious it was. Okay I thought, so I might have a clot, maybe I’ll get a day or two off work. We headed home about 5am to get a few hours sleep before we would have to head back to the hospital for my CT scan. I brushed my teeth and coughed up a big chunk of blood... the fear hit me. Something really was wrong. I packed an overnight bag for the hospital just in case, that blood made me realize it might be more serious than I thought.

1pm, CT Scan... back to the ER to check in for the results. A Saturday afternoon on the long weekend is much busier than the middle of the night – so we waited and waited... and waited. Finally I got to meet Dr. Eyes Closed. His bedside manner was spectacular – or, well, nonexistent. My CT scan didn’t work and I would need another... so more scanning and more waiting. Finally the results were in. I did have a pulmonary embolism. A small clot in my lower left lung. As we sat in the “quiet room” and he gave us the news, I realized I wouldn’t be racing next weekend. Silly where your mind goes. Really I was lucky to be alive and all I could think was that nobody would ever understand all the hard work I put in for that moment. That moment when you cross the finish line and 6 months of training feels so worth it. It was crushing. It made my chest hurt even more.

I was lucky in a sense, I was in such good health (other than my PE) I would be treated as an outpatient and didn’t need to stay at the hospital. Coming home from the hospital that night the pain intensified. I don’t know if being at the ER and waiting had numbed everything a little with adrenaline or maybe fear. We stopped at the Market to get some food for dinner. Walking around the store was excruciating and by the time we got home, just sitting on the couch hurt every inch of my body. Every breath I took felt like my insides were shattering. I sat in the computer chair which offered little relief and Shane began his new role of caregiver, making us dinner and I’m sure worrying about me more than he would ever let on. We went to bed that night and I barely slept... it’s all a little blurry now, but I remember it hurt and I remember I swore at the pain throughout the night.

The next morning we packed up and headed to the Jubilee for my first of many blood tests and my first day at the DVT clinic. There they would check my INR and administer a shot of heparin as well as a dose of Coumadin (warfarin). The doctors and nurses were all great. My favourite nurse being Dorinka. Her husband had had an unprovoked PE as well, so it seemed like she understood and was able to sympathize a little more. She made me feel safe. We also met Dr. Waters that day. In all honesty I can barely remember anything, aside from how much it hurt to lie back while he examined me. I was sent for a leg scan (ultrasound) to check for more clots in my legs or to see if they could tell where my lung clot came from. Sitting in the waiting area for the scan my emotions ran high.

[Fast forward....]

I spent nearly two weeks attending the DVT clinic. I reacted quickly to the Coumadin but then took a while to get regulated – just see-sawing up and down. Blood too thin, blood too thick.

During this time of course came the first ‘big’ race Kirsten and I had been training for –The Shawnigan Half Iron on May 24th, 2009. On Saturday (the 23rd) I went with Kirsten to pick up her race packet, attend the pre-race meeting and drop her bike off. Being there, on the grass at Shawnigan I felt like I was in a bit of a dream. Kirsten made me pick up my race pack (cause I kept saying how much I liked the race shirt). I didn’t open it until we got home. Pulling my race number out of the bag made me feel slightly ill. The emotions came on without much warning in this huge wave of disbelief – there it was... my number, 87. I was supposed to be wearing that tomorrow. The nerves in my tummy were supposed to be pre-race jitters and not the fear of some unknown reason as to why I had gotten a blood clot. I pushed the emotion down. I didn’t want to make Kirsten feel bad, she had worked just as hard as I had over the past 6 months and I wanted to be there to support her through her race.

Sunday morning we got up early. I will admit I was really excited for Kirsten and yet somewhat jealous too. It was a gorgeous day and it was nice to be there soaking in the atmosphere. I think I’ve realized I’m a tri geek... I truly love watching the people get ready, checking out all the bikes, even waiting in line for the porta-potty with Kirsten (even though I didn’t need to go). When the cannon went off I had a few tears. The emotions are hard to describe. Thank goodness for sunglasses. We were able to watch Kirsten emerge from the water after her swim – disoriented and with a slight look of “what the hell have I gotten myself into” on her face before Shane and I had to head back to the hospital for my daily shot. Luckily we were in and out of the DVT clinic quickly and were able to get back up to Shawnigan in good time. Kirsten was so speedy on the bike we didn’t get to see any of that leg of the race, but we did manage to find a nice little place on the trail to see her go by on the run before heading back to the finish line to wait for her to cross….

[Fast forward again….]

It is now July 18th, 2009. Pretty much two months since this all began. Some days are good and some are bad. The pain is still with me, although not in the same way. It’s a discomfort that it always just there, an ache with each deep breath, an awareness that my body is not quite right. Each and every day I feel this. I am lucky though, I’m lucky I’m alive and lucky to have such an amazing husband and supportive and caring family. I’ve been back to work for a few weeks now – long enough to feel ready for a vacation. I’m also back “training”. Not in the same way as I was before, but with new goals in mind. I have my sights set on the half marathon in October....

As clich├ęd as it sounds, one thing I’ve learned over the last 4/5 months is that what doesn’t kill you definitely makes you stronger (even if some days it drags you down and beats the crap out of you first). I'm happy to report that the goal I set for myself in July of running in the RVM-half will soon be a reality.

Well, thanks to everyone who made it through and read this whole super long post. Now, I must go run.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Why do I do triathlon? Why Ironman?? Why this blog???

All questions I’ve either been asked, figure I will be asked, or have asked myself.

So, why triathlon?

Quite simply, it makes me happy.

I like being in shape.
I like being able to indulge in sickly sweet lattes, pastries, pizza, chocolate (and more) and not feel uber-guilty about it.
I like being able to call myself a triathlete. I think it has a nice ring to it.
I like beating my sister in a race… and even though it’s not as much fun, I kinda don’t mind losing to her either (kinda). I guess what I really like is that she pushes me to be better.
I like that Kirsten and I have become great friends and can share this passion.
I like the atmosphere on race day.
I like the people you meet who share similar interests and goals.
I like training. I really like training - even the super early mornings.
I like when my pants start to fit a little looser.
I like a good post-run poo (but I don’t like when I almost don’t make it to the can).
I like all the fun gadgets and high tech gear (I love my Garmin).
I like getting new runners… or bike shorts… or new socks... or, well, anything new really.
I like doing something that sets me apart a little – something that not everyone does.
I like being a part of a sport that is really three sports in one.
I like pushing my body to what I think are my limits and then crushing those limits.
I like being alive and able.
I like getting to the start line as much as the finish line.
I like swimming… and biking… and even running too.

And quite simply, it makes me really happy.

Why Ironman?

This one is a little harder to put into words.I suppose to me, it’s the ultimate - the ultimate test of my own endurance, both in a physical sense as well as a mental one.

When I got sick, I was told I could probably return to ‘moderate’ activity. I now hate the word moderate. Moderate made me think Ironman would never be a reality. It made me feel like I had to put that dream in a box and forget about it – and it crushed me. I can pin point a moment where the emotional pain of feeling like I would never be able to achieve this goal was worse than the physical pain and, well, it sucked.

So fast forward to August when Shane first suggested I go for it ('it' being Ironman) if I truly wanted to… and then the doctors said it would be okay... and then I realized it was doable. It was on! I didn’t want to wait.

I’m alive and I’m able – so why not?

Why blog?

I want to remember this experience. It’s more than one day, more than one race.
I have a terrible memory, so I think it might be fun to have an archive to look back on.
I’m terrible at talking about my feelings and thought this could be a good way to get some of my thoughts (and possibly emotions) out.
And finally, since not everyone is going to be able to (or want to) come for early morning swims, marathon bike rides and grueling runs, I want to be able to share the experience in a different way.

I’m sure there are many more answers to all of my questions above – some of which I’m probably not even aware of yet myself.

So… stayed tuned as the adventure begins!