HI readers– during the past five days I’ve been on vacation with some dear friends, taking some time out (and away) to enjoy water, sun, nature, food, a little culture, and laughs with each other. I’ll be blogging about it soon, but have to get to the airport very soon. So, I offer you another family vacation blog post– from 2016 with my sister and her kids– about adjustment, fitness and fun. Enjoy, and then head outside if it’s nice where you are.
Last weekend, I participated in IRONMAN Lake Placid. It was my third IRONMAN and I went into the weekend feeling strong but also keeping in mind the course was hard and in long races, nothing feels guaranteed.
There are a few things that reliably help me through a long swim, one of them being a reminder that when I was a kid you could not get me out of the water! I know lots of triathletes just aim to survive the swim, but I’m usually able to enjoy it at least a little. Mirror Lake was a beautiful spot to swim 3.8km, and while I wasn’t able to use the cable much and found myself butting up against lots of (at the time, annoying) swimmers despite the rolling start, I found a decent rhythm in the swim. Later, I was pleased to see I took a little bit of time off my last IRONMAN swim time. Regular swimming with Balance Point Triathlon has given me a lot more confidence in the swim over the past few years and other than some super painful chafing on my neck (there’s a first for everything!), I’ll look back on the swim with fond memories of a solid warmup (1:11:34) for the long day ahead.
After going on a few trips to train in the big hills/mountains, riding portions of the bike course, driving the bike course, listening to podcasts and watching videos about the terrain, asking anyone who’d offer advice, and purchasing ~a bajillion dollars in upgrades to my bike set-up, I felt as ready as I could be for the bike portion of IRONMAN Lake Placid. Turns out, the challenge was “just right” and I loved watching people fade on the second lap. I faded too, but when it started pouring rain on the climb back in, I remembered the rides I’d done in the similarly pouring rain at home and hoped any 35-39-year-old women out there (stayed safe but) slowed down.
The climbs weren’t the only thing that were absolutely breathtaking–the scenery was postcard beautiful nearly the whole time and the descent into Keene I’d worried about for weeks was scary but as I hit 76km/hr on my skinny (but tubeless and new!) tires I was so grateful for plenty of space from my fellow racers, my new bike and the experiences I’ve had on bikes in hilly places over the last decade or so. I hated watching my average speed drop on the backside of the course, but I felt so strong on the flats and was warned about that dropoff! The backdrop of towering Whiteface Mountain and knowing that Brent climbed it just for training a few days before inspired me, too, and gave me some perspective that while the course was tough, it was in the realm of appropriately challenging. I got to see my non 35-39-year-old women friends (mostly as they passed me–way to go!) and other than some blatant drafting that set the obsessive rule-follower in me off, I had the kind of bike I could only hope for. I assumed I’d gone slower (6:13:26) here than last year on the also-challenging-but-maybe-not-quite-as-challenging IRONMAN Mont Tremblant bike course, but turns out that was a PR. Amazing what hard work and about ~$10,000 in upgrades can get you!
In any race, I worry (a lot) about (a lot of) things–from losing my goggles or drowning in the swim to getting a flat tire or crashing on the bike–so I’m always a bit relieved to get to the run and only have to worry about moving forward on my own two feet. With that in mind, I started the run happy to be off the bike. Even though I knew I might fade later, I went with the good feeling and let it rip. Between spectators hitting the nail on the head with their Goggins-inspired encouragement and fellow runners I chatted with on the first loop, it was easy to smile for the cameras! In the back of my mind, I knew I had some work ahead of me and if I’m being honest, the hill I was dreading on the way back into town was every bit as hard as I thought it would be–yowzer!
On lap 2, I felt the twinge of cramps. I held them off by slowing, doing the math on how slow I could go and still hit my (arbitrary, ambitious, motivating) goal of averaging <6:00/km. At one point, I rubbed some of my base salts on a nasty wetsuit burn on my neck to distract myself from the cramps. Boy, did that remind me that things could get worse! The scenery, especially the ski jumps in the distance, and the shared suffering with other racers got me through the long out and back, as did thinking on purpose about friends and family–and drinking coke at every aid station. Seeing my friends, telling strangers they looked good, and reminding myself out loud that “it’s not supposed to be easy!” helped, too. My coach Ang’s reminder that “suffering is a privilege” helped me push myself instead of shying away from the challenge. I spent a while imagining my dog Walter pulling me by his leash before tackling that darn hill one more time! Luckily, the love of my life and total hunk Brent was stationed mid-ascent with one of my favourite songs in the world playing for me. Better yet, he let me know that I was fairly firmly setting myself up to finish 10th in my AG–good enough (in the Women for Tri era, but more to explore and unpack there!) for a Kona qualifier. From there, I felt lighter in my step and had to remind myself to enjoy the last mile, taking some time to let it all soak in.
As a girl who cited period cramps and walked off the track the day we ran the mile in 9th grade gym class, I always draw strength from looking back on my journey to the point where I’ll pay lots of money to run lots of miles. As cheesy as it sounds, as I ran to the finish line, I thought on purpose about how proud of that young girl I am for the progress she’s made and the woman I’ve become. I somehow held it together at the finish line (4:09:13 marathon, which works out to 5:56/km) and almost argued with Brent (sorry, honey–you’re the best!) when he told me my finishing time and that I’d PR’d across the board and overall (11:42:19).
I am so grateful for the way that my person (Brent), my coach, my tri club, my friends, coworkers and family have supported and encouraged me and for the opportunity to choose to suffer in this sport. As I’ve said before, I love to see what I can get out of myself and racing helps me do that. Can’t wait to do it again (after some recovery and some heat-training) in just under 12 weeks.
If IMLP is on your maybe list, move it to your must-do and get training–it’s no joke!
Cheryl MacLachlan is an endurance athlete, teacher and coach living in London, ON. She is always looking for another bike and loves her dog Walter, books and writing.
Ever since I can remember I have always felt most “myself” in water. As a kid growing up on the North Shore of Long Island, it was literally the shaping force of my summers, the pattern of the day set by the tide schedule stuck to the fridge door. Swimming in the Sound or exploring sandbars and rocky beaches, I learned to test my physical boundaries and independence. The prospects of where I could go and what I could do, like the summers themselves, were expansive and exciting.
This year is the first since those childhood summers that I find myself with long and unstructured time off. Beginning in May, I took a medical leave from my job to address symptoms I attributed to pandemic related anxiety and general burnout. Then one night in early June I had a “panic attack” that lasted nearly three hours. When my partner took me to the emergency room I clocked in with a heart rate of 225.
A few shots of adenosine, some diagnostics, and the care of numerous excellent health care providers (pay nurses more!) later, I was diagnosed with AVNRT, a form of tachycardia in which there are extra electrical signals that sustain an elevated heart rate. I opted for a catheter ablation, a procedure in which parts of heart tissue are burned to create scarring that dampens the rogue signals.
The weeks between my hospital discharge and my surgery were the most sedentary of my life. Even trips to the supermarket required rests between aisles while holding onto the cart for stability. I joked with my friends that I felt like a convalescing Victorian lady, vapours and all. However, I was terrified that my capacity to do anything physically taxing was irrevocably compromised. As an adult, I’ve never felt completely at home with my body but I have learned to respect its capabilities, strength and sturdiness and I have been fortunate not to have experienced any major illness or injuries. Up until this point I thought my body and I had a mutual understanding, but now it felt unreliable, weak, a stranger to me.
It wasn’t until my surgery that I began to recognize that, in order to heal that relationship, I had to be my own guide to finding and honouring my new normal. This realisation came in part from processing the trauma of the procedure itself (not to get into gory details but sedation is contraindicated so I was wide awake for the whole painful affair) but also from the example of support and care given to me by my community of friends and family, for which I am profoundly grateful.
I’m now three weeks post-op and it will take up to three months for my heart to fully heal. Recovery has not always been a linear path. On the days where my heart rate is wonky or the fatigue sets in early, I still resist the urge to feel betrayed and furious that my body won’t comply with my demands. On days like this, the knowledge that the false dichotomy between the body and mind is a construct of capitalism and a tool of the patriarchy somehow just doesn’t cut it. I crave comfort, fun and a place of safety.
I think I’ve found that place back in the water. My “free” summer has opened up time to swim to my heart’s content (pun intended). Somewhere along the way I tapped into some serious childhood nostalgia as part of my healing journey and am now fully embracing what I call “kid summer.” What this looks like can vary – sometimes it is rising late on a Wednesday morning and heading straight to my condo’s pool in Toronto. Other times it is days spent on the couch with books and snacks, nights spent staying up late to watch movies.
I recently impulse bought a nightshirt with a sparkly watermelon and the phrase “Summer Forever” that would have thrilled eight-year old me. Underlying all of these activities is a gentle nurturing of curiousity and potential, and remembering that feeling “myself” is not a static state but a practice of self compassion.
Today I’m at my grown-up version of the beach: my in-laws’ cottage off Georgian Bay. I grab my towel and head down to the water to visit the little group of painted turtles that have taken up residence in the channel. They are watchful and cautious at first, hiding underwater among the weeds at the first signs of my approach. After a few minutes they reappear one by one, poking their red striped heads out of the water or crawling up to a floating plank to bask in the sun. I lay my towel out on the stones at the water’s edge and join them in the basking. In time they will be ready to dive back in, and so will I.
Elena Napolitano is a white, queer femme who lives in Toronto with her partner and her intrepid little elder dog, Maddy. Part time Art Historian, full time nerd, she also loves swimming, hiking and painting cheeky little birds.
I’m also wanting to write about the changing relationship I’m experiencing between seasons and sports. Summer has been, for a long time, for me, the season of century bike rides. There’s the friends for life bike rally, six days of long rides. I plan long bike trips on paths and roads on days that are getting increasingly hot. It doesn’t matter how early we start it’s still stinking hot out there where I live.
There are also random dangerous storms. The other night, riding to physio, I was out in a pop up thunder storm and pretty quickly had large hail bouncing off my helmet and hail stones stuck behind my glasses. Last summer Sarah and I got stuck riding in the worst storm we’ve ever experienced. That was also the year I learned a new word, “derecho”–a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.
More and more the heat and the wild weather is making this less fun. And I like the heat. I love summer. It’s my favorite season. Maybe summer going forward is a time for swimming not cycling. I could make fall my cycling season, the time for long bike rides, but the problem is lack of daylight.
A friend was at a party the other day and someone asked her if her friend, also at the party, had recently had knee surgery. A third person piped up and said that clearly she hadn’t had knee surgery because she was wearing a knee length summer dress. “She wouldn’t wear that if she had knee surgery.”
You’re not going to not wear shorts and dresses just because you’ve had knee replacement surgery. And yet, while I’m perfectly comfortable wearing bike shorts and gym clothes that reveal my knee scars, I confess I sometimes wonder about my shorter skirts and summer dresses. It took me a few weeks to get used to it.
I confess too that I did buy a few longer skirts.
Gradually though I’ve gotten used to seeing my knee scars in my work clothes. Like my tattoos they’ve become part of me very quickly. It’s the new way I’m going to be able to date summer photos, before or after knee surgery.
It’s funny too because I now notice how many other people have had knee surgery. I see evidence of knee replacement surgery all around me. I’m pretty sure I didn’t notice before.
Here’s me dressed for work in one of my favorite pink dresses, white jacket, and pink sandals. Even my toe nails are pink. I was Barbie themed last week without even planning it.
How about you? Do you have knee scars? Do the affect what you wear at all?
Recently fellow blogger Mina asked a question about meditation and sleep apps, and it got me thinking about all the ways I use apps to track various aspects of my health and fitness.
The most important is the health app on my phone, since it’s where I track my blood pressure and heart rate whenever I remember. Since I take blood pressure medication the doctor likes me to track it between visits.
I use the same app for a rough estimate of distance walked, though am often amused to see the inconsistencies between it, my watch, and what I have tracked on Strava. There is nothing quite like being in the middle of cycling somewhere and getting a command from your watch to “move”, or ending a long ride and being told by your phone that you haven’t been as active as usual. That’s because I use my watch primarily for telling time. It’s waterproof so I can wear it in the water, but I rarely remember to adjust the settings for walk vs bike vs run (it doesn’t do swim tracking).
Strava, on the other hand, I use quite a bit. It works well for cycling to influence city data collection on active transportation. I like it for tracking outdoor swim distances, even though it does a terrible job of recording speed accurately in the water. Sometimes I remember to turn it on when I am going for a longer walk, as it is more accurate for distance than the phone app tracking steps and guesstimating distance.
Somewhere I heard about the ParticipACTION app and started tracking everyday activities there. I like that I have a way to acknowledge time spent gardening or in dance class or doing yoga. It has lots of little videos and articles too, though I have never found anything as frisky as Sam did.
My new favourite is Let’s Bike, which allows me to track my cycling distances and convert them to dollars saved and greenhouse gases averted. I started using it in June as part of a Bike Month challenge. So far, I have biked over 490 km, saved more than $300 and averted 330 kg of greenhouse gases by cycling.
And finally, Nature Dose. It’s supposed to help me track whether I am getting enough time outside, to improve my mental health. The goal for someone living in an area like mine is 90 minutes per week. The first week I hit over 800 minutes. Week 2 was over 900 and so far this week I’m at almost 300. I don’t think I am their target audience.
Is it too many apps? Probably. But like Sesame Street’s Count von Count, I love to amuse myself by counting things, just for fun.
Diane Harper is a public servant living in Ottawa.