Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Coming Ice Age

I want to know, even if I trip and break my femur on the way to the starting line, that I have succeeded.”
Written by me shortly after entering my first Ironman, September 2001

OK. So, snow.
The weather outside is frightful. It has been frightful every winter since at least the last Ice Age. Still, like the chronic speeder pulled over for the umpteenth time, we seem surprised each time that it has happened to us once again.

Really there was just a smattering of snow in Toronto this week, although this is usually enough for us to consider ourselves part of the next Armageddon. Here in our town we have twenty-five different words for snow, and they are all swear words. We get snow here, and while we do not get battered nearly as much as our neighbours less than a hundred kilometres to the north or south, we manage to whine far more. One year the city actually called in the army after a particularly heavy snowfall. We were laughed at by the rest of the country.
I am one of the whiners. My Ohioan friends Pam and Dave embrace the drifts of winter and head for the trails on bikes slung with tires that look like they belong on a monster truck. I am envious of their spirit, and wish I had the [insert body parts here] to love this season myself. I don’t. I have paid my dues in the past: biked to work all winter through puddles of salty slush; run through the snow in shoes with screws drilled into the soles. I'm over it.

Get inside you fool.
So my outdoor training season is effectively over. What this really means is that I can no longer blame the weather for missed workouts; for the fact that the pages in my training log look as blank as the expanse of unmarked white snow I can see today outside my window.
Yesterday I mounted the red training tire on my bike, clamped the bike onto the trainer, and spent some quality time with Coach Troy Jabobson on one of my dozen Spinervals DVDs. Today I’ll hop onto the treadmill and begin a winter of running nowhere.

My training for my planned 2015 season, including Ironman Muskoka next August, has begun.
What was driven home to me after I was carted off the course on a stretcher at Mont Tremblant in 2013 was that although race day is important to me, it is only the terminus of a months-long process of mental and physical preparation. I had better love that process, because life is too short to wallow in months of misery for the sake of the single day at an athletic event. Winter training is part of the process. And I will happily do mine indoors.

I intend to relish every minute of my triathlon training over the winter months—even the unenjoyable minutes: evenings in a tepid, pee-filled public pool, navigating myself over and around unidentifiable flotsam and dog-paddling folks who have no grasp of what a lane swim is; pounding away on a moving rubber tread with the overhead furnace vent blasting hot air over me and Frasier reruns on the TV; cranking away on my trainer-manacled bicycle pretending to be climbing a hill in Muskoka by grinding the rear derailleur down to the smallest cog and standing on the pedals so that my head hits the ceiling.

It doesn’t get any better than this. Well actually it does; once the snow is gone and I can get outside again, I know it will be more fun. But I still plan to cherish any hours I spend working toward my goal, indoors or outdoors, and intend to be grateful that I can.

Crossing the finish line at Ironman will never stop being a singular thrill. But after many finishes over the past dozen years, it has stopped being a mystical, spiritual, life-changing experience. What it represents to me is the fulfillment of a promise made to myself, the realization of a plan followed to the end. The hundreds and hundreds of miles of training ahead, even those in my basement that move me nowhere, are the real reason I do this. The destination is indeed the journey, as so many have said, and I’m on it once again.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Greater Expectations

To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target, reads an aphorism by Ashley Brilliant.

Although I embrace the concept of venturing into the unknown when I start a race, I do feel that one should have some kind of goal in mind in order to help resist the temptation to just run off the road at the first Tim Horton’s and spend the morning eating TimBits. At the Angus Glen Half Marathon, my goal was the amorphous and always disclaimer-friendly “JTF”. Just to Finish.
Set a PB, Pip.
I wonder if my expectations were a bit too modest.
The Angus Glen races are held in Unionville, an affluent dormitory community just northeast of Toronto. There is a 10K, a family 5K, and the Half Marathon. Because it’s November, bad weather is possible and is not feared. The race start and finish are at the clubhouse of the Angus Glen Golf Club (once a Black Angus cattle farm), a beautiful course that hosted the Canadian Open in 2007.

The golf club facilities are terrific and welcoming, with lots of indoor square footage so that everyone can stay warm while waiting to run. Warmth was a cherished commodity on race morning, as the temperature outside was around minus 1 Celsius, although the sun shone hopefully. The start time is a sleeper-inner’s dream: 9:00 am, which includes an extra hour as the clocks go back.

I wanted to run in this race because it is small and rural, the opposite of the manic Waterfront Marathon I have run the past few years. The race organizers place a cap on entries to make sure the facilities aren’t overtaxed and the resources aren’t clobbered. It works. There are not a lot of volunteers (in fact there was no one at all at the far turnaround of the course), but not many are really needed, and the ones who stood swathed in goose down and GoreTex at the aid stations to hand us our water did so beautifully.
After all 350 or so of us half marathoners got started, I began running with an easier and slightly faster step than I can remember taking lately, as I was carried along with the others. The first few kilometres wound through a neat, trim housing development at the edge of the golf course. I could picture the real estate agent saying to prospective house buyers, “You do golf, don’t you?”

Heading away from the populated areas, the course traces the outlines of farms that in another ten years will be housing developments. Many farmhouses along the way were empty and boarded up, the properties for sale.
I tried to keep an even pace as we ran up and down the long rolling hills at the base of the Oak Ridges Moraine. I was bundled up against the cold, which was good a thing while we were running northward into the wind. After the northernmost turnaround, all of a sudden I had the wind at my back and the sun in my face and I was actually too warm.

The last couple of kilometres winds along the cart paths of the golf course itself. There are surprising twists and turns and some steep, sharp hills, which can be depressing if you are not expecting them, which I wasn’t. An older gentleman—who obviously had a loftier goal than I had—passed me on one of the hills, and I watched him disappear into the distance to claim  whatever place I might have had just off the bottom of my age group.

With running and writing friend Sam after the finish

I had low expectations for myself in this race. I haven’t run the half marathon distance in at least a year, so I was ready to treat myself gently and plod along. It was one of those races where I was going to be happy just to see how things went and not make a fool of myself. As the morning progressed, I began to ask more of myself, trying for (and getting) even splits between the kilometre markers. As we got close to the end, I pushed harder. Amazingly, my body, which has spent most of the summer building a deck instead of running, responded to my pushes. I crossed the finish line with just a bit left in the tank, a few minutes faster than my most optimistic plan. I expected more and I got more. Go figure.

Low expectations are being retired for the foreseeable future. There is no place for them in my life over the coming months.  As I get ready for Ironman Muskoka in August 2015, it’s time to start thinking like an athlete again.