Category Archives: Triathlon

Sometimes, you just have to suck at something

Tonight, while sweating up a storm, a spark: Sometimes you have to really just suck at something before you can start to get with it.

In the last five years, my life has changed at least as many times.  I set goals and succeeded at a lot of things.  But I fell flat on my face a few times too.  I’ve been injured and sick at times, and I used that as an excuse to stay on the couch.  I let each of my failures dictate how I’d spend the next few months.

For me, that meant wallowing in a sort of self pity.  I felt sorry for myself all the time.  I couldn’t even walk down the street without being reminded of just how much I screwed up on the one thing I believed so much in.

A spark: Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.  After all:

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

-Winston Churchill

and

Life is full of setbacks, success is determined by how you handle setbacks.

-A Shopping Bag

Do I need to fail more?  I’ve learned more from my failures over the last few years than I’d ever learned by succeeding at anything.  (Remind me, and maybe one day I’ll get more into that, and how a major setback at work led to a major epiphany…)

So I remember, thinking to myself when I moved to Kits, that there would be “no more excuses”.  Screw that.  Excuses are something that you make for something you don’t want to do.  The real joy is in surrounding yourself with the people that you want to be around, and kicking ass at the things that make your life — and their lives better.

So, this is now.  And that’s really it.  Is it the excitement of something new?  Or is it the spark of nostalgia?  Or does it matter?  It’s a spark.  And it’s my job to share sparks with you.

Moving forward…

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The Multisport Event Formerly Known As Subaru Victoria

Success in triathlon is all about successfully carrying out a set of well-orchestrated tasks, in a specific sequence.  Whether you’re one of the professional elite, or whether you’re an enthusiastic age-grouper, it’s all the same.  Flawless execution of a race plan is what we strive for.

Of course, flawless execution is only half the battle.  Triathlon is as much about going through the physical actions, as it is about the mental discipline and preparation.  Leading up to the race, I spent a fair amount of time, creating a race plan.  Well, I can’t really call it a plan, because it It became more of an over-analytical checklist than anything, and landed as something of a race visualization guide.  I wrote my checklist, choosing words which created a mental and emotional picture of each step in the process.

So, while my splits (except perhaps for my T1 and T2 times) don’t come close to world-class, my performance in Victoria was a near-flawless execution of my race plan.  It was a successful race, in my books.  By the numbers:

500m Swim 10:04
T1 1:13
20km Bike 42:59
T2 1:18
5km Run 31:44
Final Clock 1:27:17

Package Pick-Up

I don’t think I’d normally include a comment about the package pick-up as part of a race report, but in this case, I must.  I felt that the organizers were more interested in making sure we all knew that the race was Ironman™-branded, than actually giving us useful information.  Especially for those of us racing the short course events.  The process of finding my race number, and making sure all the forms were filled out, was very disorganized.  Upon arriving at the athlete registration tent, I was told, “Go there first, and then come back.”  There was a small tent, crammed full of athletes trying to figure out their race numbers and which forms they needed to fill out.  It was as much a melée as a mass swim start.  Nevertheless, we were all able to figure it out.  But it wasn’t a great first introduction to the race experience, and in all honesty, I wasn’t mentally prepared to deal with it.  Fortunately (and I’m getting ahead of myself), the night’s sleep would help.

Bike Check

Once I had my race package, I went back to the car for my bike.  This is where the execution of my race plan begins.  This is the last chance I’ll have to make sure everything is in good shape before leaving my bike in the transition area overnight.

  1. Race number goes on the bike.
  2. Check that wheels are installed with quick-release levers at an appropriate tension.
  3. Check that brakes are well-aligned, and I didn’t forget to tighten the little screws on the brake pads.
  4. Get air in the tires.
  5. Take a quick spin to make sure everything is still in sound mechanical order.
  6. Make sure the gears shift smoothly and correctly.
  7. Choose an easy or appropriate gear for the start of the bike course (in this case, a short flat and a slight uphill grade).

Bike Drop-Off

After a successful test ride, I took my bike into the transition area.  I’m familiar with transition areas, and how little space is normally available.  I know to only bring the absolute necessities into transition.  But, when I found my race number on the rack, I wasn’t quite prepared for this.  What I found, was a clearance of at best 15cm to the bikes on either side of mine.  Not to mention, those stupid short racks that simply don’t work with my 58cm tri bike frame.  Fortunately, I hadn’t removed my rear bottle cages (as I have sometimes done in the past for a sprint distance), so I racked my bike off the rear of my saddle, so I’d be able to simply lift it out of the rack in T1.

I left transition, after trying to make sure that the adjacent bikes wouldn’t rub their icky metallic grossness on my carbon.  But I couldn’t quite shake the worry about being able to get my bike out and back in to transition without trouble.

Hotel Check-In and Dinner

Once the logistics were taken care of at the race site, it was off to the hotel to relax and get some food in.  We went to the hotel restaurant.  At this point, it’s worth noting that the adage, Never try anything new on race day, should be extended out to at least one day before the race.  This is all I will say about my pre-race dinner.

And then, after a suitable amount of time spent doing as little as possible, it was bedtime.  I set my alarm for some ungodly hour, and turned out the lights.

Race Morning

Setting up transition always seems to take me longer than it should.  But I think I’m getting the hang of it.  When I got into transition, everything was like clockwork.  I set down my backpack, and  went through it like a checklist, starting with the bike.

  1. Aero bottle on handlebars.
  2. Elbow pads on aero bars.
  3. Bike shoes un-velcroed and clipped into pedals, with elastic bands.
  4. Spare tubes and repair kit in one of the rear bottle cages.
  5. CO2 and inflator attached to rear of bottle cages.
  6. Gel taped to top tube.
  7. Helmet ratchet loosened.
  8. Helmet placed beside front wheel.
  9. Sunglasses, with arms out, inside helmet.
  10. Garmin mounted to bike, in Auto Multisport mode.

Then the run:

  1. Race belt in hat
  2. Hat behind bike helmet
  3. Bodyglide rubbed on shoes (inside edge of heel)
  4. Shoes on top of hat

And finally, the swim:

  1. Anti-fog applied to goggles
  2. Swim cap and goggles in back pocket of tri top
  3. Post-swim gel in back pocket of tri top

Once all my stuff was in the right place, I visualized all of the critical stages of the race.  I wasn’t really going through a checklist at this point; rather, drawing on my past race experiences.  And yes, everything was where it needed to be for my race plan.  My race day went perfectly.  While I didn’t win (nor even come close), I executed on my plan almost flawlessly.

 

Part One: Discovering the high-performance athlete inside

Triathlon is a unique sport in that professionals and amateurs often compete on the same course and on the same day, if not side-by-side. For many of us, it’s a lifestyle sport. Unlike many other amateur sports, even the shortest sprint distance triathlon demands a significant outlay of time and effort, not to mention the hemorrhaging of cash credit card debt.  It’s very easy to let the sport take over your entire life. And really, what better obsession? When the sport does take over your entire life, you put up pictures of Paula Findlay or Crowie on your cubicle walls. You derive a sick pleasure in watching people cringe when you tell them you spent more than $500 $5000 on a bicycle, and that you have at least two or three of them.

You probably do this for a reason. If you didn’t at least enjoy it, there wouldn’t really be a point at all, no? This is what discovering your inner elite is all about. Whether you are racing competitively against others, or whether you are racing for your own heart.

I do it because it is a challenge, to see whether I am capable of finishing things that ordinary people would call extraordinary. But it’s really not about that. There’s nothing special about the things that we do, except for the fact that we choose to do them.

So if there’s nothing extraordinary about the things that we do, or for that matter, the things that the elite do, then shouldn’t it mean that there’s no difference between the elite, and you?  There is no difference between any of us.

Through racing a few years ago, I learned that I am good enough to justify the time and expense of the triathlon lifestyle. An injury set me back a bit, but 2014 affords a new opportunity to start again.

There is nothing more rewarding in my life when I finally see that spark in someone’s eyes, when they finally get it.

So, make it real. Here are some ideas:

  • Get a personalized license plate for your car. Something like “TRI4PR” or “CARBON”.
  • Create an “Athlete” page on Facebook, so that you can have actual fans!
  • Get someone to take pictures of you and your bike (like you might see in Triathlete magazine).

I think the first point of order here is to really begin to accept myself as a high-performance athlete. That’s not to say that I’m pro-level or elite, but as a high-performance athlete, there is a slightly different bar that applies to me, my workouts, my day job, and my personal life.  But being a high-performance athlete means eliminating all those excuses, and making it real.  Not because I have to, but because there’s no better feeling than doing something that everyone else thought was impossible.

All the best to you, in 2014,

Darryl

Race Report: Cultus Lake Sprint Triathlon

Early in the year, I had an interesting conversation with a man I didn’t know.  He told me that he no longer raced triathlon, because he’s no longer as good as he used to be; that the fun of the sport had essentially been lost.  I found out later, that this man was none other than Peter Reid, multiple Ironman World Champion.  What struck me most was, although he is a world-class athlete, our conversation was humble and, for lack of a better word, normal.

But what of this, getting to a point in the sport where it is no longer interesting?  This concern framed much of my season.  I’ve gone through many interests and obsessions over the years.  I was into rock climbing a few years after high school.  I took up yoga for some time.  My interest faded in both.

It has been a challenging year on many fronts, full of all kinds of issues and drama.  And unfounded fears.  I had initially planned on Kelowna being my season-ender.  Kelowna was my A-race.  An Olympic-distance course shared with the ITU elite, the likes of Paula Findlay and Simon Whitfield.  But there was something missing.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until I expressed my concerns among a few friends, about losing interest in the sport.  What if I’m not good enough?  What if I reach my limits, and never see improvement?  In a moment of genius, one of my friends suggested that the game ends, once it is no longer fun.  I signed up for Cultus Lake, thinking, this is going to be fun.  I even joked about racing with handlebar streamers, spokey dokes and a hockey card taped to my chainstay.  I was going to have some serious fun!

I never had dreams about rock climbing or yoga.  But about a week before Cultus, I had yet another triathlon-related dream.  I’m sure it was full of metaphor.  The message: The race is not over.  The race is not over.  It is so not over.  So, of course, I looked up last year’s results online.  I realized that it was well within my reach to push harder than ever before, and give more than ever before.  And it was well within my reach to get a 3rd place medal in my age group.  I can do this.

So I decided to take it seriously.  Still have fun, still enjoy it.  But let’s take it seriously.

The race is not over.  This athlete isn’t tired.  Not yet.

Swim: 15:20 (2:03/100m; 10th overall)

My swim is usually pretty consistent during wetsuit-legal races at 1:55/100m, so this split is a little slower than I thought it would be, but I’m by no means disappointed.  At the start, I found myself weaving through a crush of swimmers, and my ankle-grabbing training with Kyndra and the rest of the Canwi gang came in handy here: I got kicked a few times.  I got kicked square in the chin by a guy wearing a yellow swim cap.  He elbowed me in the face later, too.  Yes, it’s all about wrestling in rubber suits.  I had my trepidations a year ago.  Now, I almost enjoy the frenzied mass swim start.  We’ll see if I say the same thing at IMC next summer.  But for now, it’s a small race, with a couple hundred participants.

The first turn came up faster than I expected.  Before I knew it, I was swimming in clear water, finding a pair of feet to draft off for a while, then pushing ahead to the next pair of feet.  I don’t recall thinking about much of anything on the swim, but I tried to remember that I have legs, and that I can use them to help propel myself forward.

Coming around the second turn, I found myself neck-and-neck with another swimmer.  He tried to pull away, and I pushed a bit more.  There were also two swimmers behind us, drafting off our feet.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Jeremy (who finished 3rd overall) was one of them.  His remark: We were drafting behind two guys.  One was kicking up a storm and the other wasn’t moving his feet at all.

I was tenth out of the water.  And I don’t know any of these people were at this point, because as far as I can remember, I was the only one around.  I see from the results that I was definitely not the only one around, but it seemed like it.

Transition 1: 1:47 (3rd overall T1 split)

Wetsuit off.  Sunglasses.  Helmet.  Chin strap.  Bike.  Go.  I lost my goggles somewhere in T1.  They were decent goggles, but I’ll just have to get a new pair.

Bike: 34:29 (34.8km/h; 1st overall bike split)

I was the sixth athlete to get out onto the bike course  My previous race in Kelowna had a much larger pack, so I passed a lot more people on the bike.  I had no idea how many people were ahead of me.  I passed three competitors fairly early on the bike course, and didn’t see anyone else for at least ten minutes.  It was very strange, being completely alone on the bike course.  I looked back, and there was nobody chasing me.  There was nobody ahead of me.

I wasn’t as diligent about hydration as I should have been, mostly because I was running a single bottle aft, with nothing between my aerobars, and nothing in the frame.  I think I took three or four sips, but really: it’s a sprint, and it wasn’t all that hot yet on the bike course.  I think in the future I’d like to have something between my aerobars.

Not a lot else going through my mind at this point.  I was comfortably spinning about 94rpm, keeping it nice and easy.  Focussing on an even pedal stroke.  10k to the turnaround.  It didn’t seem like 10k.  I began watching the other side of the road to see how many cyclists had already made the 180°.  I counted two.  I was apparently in third place, behind Joel from Victoria, and Jimmy, the speedster in a Canadian team tri suit.  I’m pretty sure I counted wrong.  There’s no way I’m in third place overall right now.  I made the turnaround, and then caught up to Mr. Team Canada.  Passed him like he was standing still.  Riding into T2, I hear Jordan’s voice over the speakers.  “We now have our second athlete coming into transition.”  I’m still pretty sure he’s talking about someone who’s ahead of me.

Transition 2: 1:52 (2nd fastest T2 time overall)

I racked my bike on an empty rack, slipped on my running shoes, grabbed my hat and race belt, and go.  There’s not really much else to do in transition.

Run: 25:59 (46th overall run split)

They say that runners win triathlons.  Unfortunately, I’m not as strong a runner as I am a cyclist.  I was first overall on the bike split, but 46th on the run.  I’m seven minutes slower than the fastest runner (who, incidentally, finished almost exactly five minutes after me).

The phrase, if you feel like you’re about to puke, you’re going too slow was in my head.  I kept repeating to myself anything I could, in effort to dig deeper and push harder.

As I approach the finish line, it’s time to turn on the afterburners and use up what little is left in my legs by this point.  I don’t remember seeing the clock, or there was something wrong with the clock, so I had no idea about time.  So I pushed, hard.  Darryl-style sprint finish.

While I didn’t do terribly well compared to 45 other runners (and particularly the five who did well enough on the run to make up for the dust I left them in on the bike), I did achieve my best 5k split ever.  I consider it a resounding success.

Overall finish: 1:19:25 (7th overall, 1st in age group)

Technically not a sprint PR, because my last sprint was 1:18 and change.  The asterisk though, is that the 1:18 course was a little shorter on the bike.

What’s unique about this finish though, is that I placed seventh overall, and first in my age group.  First.  I thought I could barely make third, and here I am, placing first.  Mind buzzing.  I kept looking at the posted results, thinking, there must be something wrong.  But it was right.  I’m first.  For the first time in my life, I’ve won something.  It’s not ITU world championships, but I won something.

More importantly, I had a fun time doing it.  It was a great race, and I made some cool friends.  I’m sure I’ll see them again next year, somewhere.  I’m sure I’ll be a better runner.  I’m sure I’ll be a better swimmer.  Now, more than ever, I believe in me.  I had my doubts, before.  I had my doubts that I wasn’t good enough.  But now I know, that I am worth it.  I believe that I am good enough to justify the time and expense required to reach the next level in my sport, to become an even better triathlete.

On what is not possible.

Gattaca is probably my favourite movie of all time.  It’s all about finding strength in the face of what appears, on the outside, to be insurmountable odds.

You are the authority on what is not possible, aren’t you Irene? They’ve got you looking for any flaw, that after a while that’s all you see. For what it’s worth, I’m here to tell you that it is possible. It is possible.

Of course, the world of Gattaca is fiction.  But there is a lot of truth in the metaphor.  I think we are often brought down by those in our lives who, whether they mean to or not, bring us down.

For me, I’ve been working through this for a while.  My family has always been focussed around team sports such as hockey, and more traditional sports such as golf or tennis.

I’ve never been into those. I don’t really know why.  But I’ve always loved the idea of being athletic.  I dabbled with the track team at high school, but got injured before I could really prove myself.

Maybe my family hasn’t been supportive, because I’ve had passions before that have ended in disinterest.  I tried rock climbing, but 5.8 was about the biggest challenge I wanted.  I was into yoga for a while, but that practice subsequently waxed and waned.

There has always been the bike, though.  I always loved the bike.  And I’ve got to get this through my head: I am good enough to justify the time and expense required to become a better triathlete, to bring my swim and run skills up to match my cycling talent.

There is a real possibility that I can, if I push harder than I’ve ever pushed before… There is a real possibility that I can make my way to the podium (for my age group) at my next race, this coming Sunday.  I know I can make this attempt without your support, but I’d rather do this for love and not for spite.

On becoming extraordinary…

We all come to the sport of triathlon for our own personal reasons.  My friends I’ve talked to have all manner of excuses for plopping down thousands of dollars on equipment, race entry fees, trainers, coaches and nutrition.  These reasons range from very personal to highly altruistic and selfless.  I come to the sport to battle the personal demons of my past, and to become a better person.

I’ve discovered that I’m a decently strong cyclist.  A friend e-mailed me yesterday, and said:

We already know you’re an excellent cyclist.  Now’s a good time to focus on your running if you want to have a good chance at being fast during Ironman.  Honestly, with your bike talent, if you follow [a particular running training plan], you’ll be much faster than all of us at IMC.

I’m not used to this.  I’m not used to being singled out as better than anyone else at anything.  It makes me feel somewhat overwhelmed.  I don’t feel like I’m worthy of this kind of attention.  I believe that the things I do are not any better than the things that anyone else does.  I have a lot of trouble accepting that I am any more extraordinary than anyone else.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been through ordinary.  I know that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is actually quite negligible.  The difference between someone who has accomplished great feats and someone who hasn’t, is nothing more than the choice to do these things.  I don’t think it could have been said any better, than how Jordan Rapp put it, in his speech to the 2011 Ironman Canada finishers the other night was poignant and summed up with:

But no one in this room has a burning desire to be, “typical.” That is not why you do an Ironman. You do an Ironman because you want to reach the stars. And you want to do it the hard way. Because that is what makes it special.

There is no easy way to reach the stars.  For me, even as comfortable as I am on the bike, it’s by no means easy.  An hour on the trainer sometimes feels like ten.  I have no patience for people who get in my way.

Playing to my strengths means focussing on improving my cycling ability.  I know that I can become a better cyclist, because I’ve been doing this for only a year.  I know that the difference between myself and Jens Voigt is that he’s been doing it longer than me.

Becoming extraordinary means you must first accept that you are an amazing human being, and that you have the innate ability to do extraordinary things.  Becoming extraordinary really takes nothing more than a choice to do something extraordinary.  And you will inspire me.