Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This Tri-ing Life

Exactly one year ago today, I put on my running shoes and went for a run. I ran 31 minutes for what I thought was 6k but was actually a bit less than 5 km. My goal was to increase my cardio fitness for the coming CANMAS canoe/kayak championship, in which I was going to participate a few weeks later. I had run in the past. When I was in my mid-20s, I had a bout of running where I actually ran quite a bit but ended up with a slight knee injury that was enough of an excuse for me to stop. Then came the kids and a state of permanent physical/mental fatigue that made running difficult for me to commit to. I must have started (and stopped) running 10 times over the following years.

Five years ago I joined the Masters program at the Balmy Beach Canoe Club. I suck at kayaking but I enjoyed it. People are friendly, it's ok exercise. The problem is that late comers to the sport like me can never acquire the super-human balance required to paddle the tippier boats. We are forever condemned to finish last, not necessarily because of a lack of fitness but rather because of a lack of balance. After 5 years of that bullshit, I needed a change.

For most people and I include myself in this, running is an acquired taste. Personally, I need to be at a certain level of running fitness to start enjoying running. To overcome that problem, I signed up for a 5k race and followed a program. If you read these lines and are trying to start running, do the same. You need a goal (a race) and a road map (a program). Ultimately we are weak and we need some kind of guilt-inducing device such as a program that tells us we have fallen off the wagon.

My biggest fear was Winter. Many years inthe past had I started running only to give up when snow came. I was living in Quebec then. Now I live in Toronto, which barely has a Winter. My plan was simple, Just Do It. I kept signing up for races: November 25, December 30, January 2nd, January 27,... all through the Winter. I followed a training plan I believed in. When the weather was unbearable, because of course Toronto had its worst Winter in living memory this year, I worked on the treadmill at the gym.

Motivation is always an issue. I've always been uncomfortable with the need for external motivation. I always make an internal association with religion, with which I'm uncomfortable. As training increases though, one feels the need for external support. It is extremely difficult to train hard in a vacuum. Luckily, we now have podcasts, web sites, books and other mediums that provide a sense of community which could previously only be found at the local running group.

In the Spring, I decided that I wanted to try triathlons. I switched my training to include swimming and cycling. I hadn't swim more than 50 meters in one go in nearly 20 years. I'm an ok swimmer, I just never did it. I signed up to the University of Toronto Sport Center, which has 50m/25m pools and started swimming. I wasn't satisfied with my technique, ordered the Total Immersion book/dvd and started from scratch. Still working on that. I also started going to go to spinning classes. I went from 6 runs a week, down to 4 runs.

Fast forward to today. I'm 44 years old and definitely in the best shape of my life. I train 6 days a week, some days more than once. My biggest problem is that my family, specially my wife, believe I'm crazy. I've competed in running races up to 25k and triathlons up to Olympic distance. I'm signed up for the Toronto Marathon this October. As the training time slowly creeps up as we get closer to October, my wife can become a bit impatient. I try to be carefull, but a 25k run takes some time and a decent bike ride requires driving out of the city, riding for 3 or 4 hours and driving back. Can't just squeeze that in before breakfast.

People have a lot of difficulty believing that endurance sports are not bad for you. All they can see is the physical suffering, the outside appearance of the athletes trying to achieve something more than what seems reasonable. When they see a race finish where people have to go over the finish line on all four, they feel sorry for the athlete while my eyes fill with tears because of the elation I feel, the admiration I have for someone who can give a true 100 percent. The longing to try and do the same.

I now consider myself an endurance athlete. A goal for next year will be to compete in at least one Half-Iron distance race, which I haven't picked yet. Barring a disaster at the Toronto Marathon, I will probably race another marathon next year, maybe even try to qualify for Boston. I'm turning 45 next year, so the qualifying time might be within my capabilities. We'll see. Another race I would like to try is the Sulphur Spring 50k or 50 miler Trail Race. 50k seems doable. If training goes amazing, maybe even 50 miles. The key is not to get hurt badly.

We will always have aches and pains. I get scared shitless everytime I get a pain somewhre. Is this the one? The injury that will sideline me and make me lose my hard earned fitness. I changed my running form to forefoot running to get rid of an annoying runner's knee problem. I now run with running shoes that most runners consider unacceptable. We will do anything to keep going. One of the big advantage of triathlon training is that you have three sports to chose from. Knee pain? Swim and bike. Shoulder problem? Skip swimming for a while. Takes a bad one to stop a triathlete from training completely.

I'm really satisfied with my first year off the Couch of Doom. I've accomplished ten times what I had any right to expect.

Swim, bike, run my friends.

1 comment:

ramster said...

awesome story, stay on the path