competition · cycling · racing

What Sam loves about team time trialing. You might like it too!

There are many different kinds of bike races and one of my favourites is the Team Time Trial.

What’s a team time trial, or TTT?

A team time trial (TTT) is a road-based bicycle race in which teams of cyclists race against the clock. In both team and individual time trials, the cyclists start the race at different times so that each start is fair and equal.

ZWIFT LIVE - WTRL TEAM TIME TRIAL - TRI CENTRAL - YouTube

I’ve raced TTTs in real life and loved them. Now I am racing them on Zwift and loving it there too. I am competing in the World Tactical Racing League.

Here’s their introduction: “Welcome to the most addictive, fun yet brutal form of racing on Zwift! Not only do you get to race with your teammates for the fastest possible time, but you have to work and suffer together to achieve this. There are many stategies and tactics to a team time trial, all of which can be seen on all 3 UCI Grand Tours (Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana) and other events throughout the year.

Can you win the weekly race? Can you beat the course records for the Coffee Class?

WTRL Team Time Trials take place on Zwift at 9 different race times every Thursday and we usually see 3000+ riders competing in 600+ teams. Each event from the same day feeds one overall league with our unique Coffee Classification: EspressoFrappeLatteMocha and a dedicated ladies-teams-only league Vienna . The objective is to get the fastest 4 (for teams of 5 to 8 racers) or the fastest 3 (for teams of 3 or 4 racers) across the line. There are many strategies for doing this, and some are covered in the Strategy and Tactics videos and links on this page.”

I’m racing with Team TFC in the Mocha Class. Usually we’re racing in Zone 8, 930 pm EST but we’re going to move to Zone 7, 730 pm. Team members are from the United States and Canada.

Here’s me in the lead position of Team Phantom, with three riders behind me. You can only see one in the image but the other two are listed on the running list of names on the right. We’re racing in Watopia. You can see red spikes for a hard effort? That’s when I’m at the front, working hard, not drafting behind.

Why not Vienna?

It’s complicated but basically the women’s only group includes riders of all abilities. Most of them are younger and faster than me. More than that though they’re lighter and my power/weight profile is much the same as the men I’m riding with. That means we have an easier time sticking together up and downhills and working together on the flats.

So far it’s been the same core crew every week with some new additions and people who come and go. The flexibility about numbers means we can add up to 8 riders. It’s the time of the 4th rider across the line that counts so we sometimes split up for the last bit of the race. Someone can choose to do a sacrificial hard turn on the front and then drop off the back. The larger group makes for a better draft.

So what do I like about it so much?

  1. Well, I like riding close to other people (both IRL and in Zwift) but I prefer to do it cooperatively rather than competitively. That’s what a team time trial is all about, working together.

2. I like that there are skills to learn. As in racing in the real world, there’s an art to moving around the peleton. You can read a bit about that here. We take turns riding at the front and drafting and taking the lead and coming off the front are both things you need to practice.

3. We communicate with one another on discord during the race. For example, we rotate on the front in a certain order and count down to lead changes. People are super encouraging and good at communicating. We struggle a bit with headsets and mics and bluetooth connections and fan noises but that’s true of workday life in these strange times too.

4. Riding as a team and working together, we get better over time. That’s always encouraging and motivational. It’s also been, in these strange physical distancing times, a very nice social connection. I have new friends all over the world!

5. I know a lot of people say they don’t like competition. But the competition in team sports has always felt different to me. In team time trials there’s nothing you can do to make the other team do worse. Your only focus is on improving your performance as a team. It’s more cooperative than competitive.

6. I’m much more likely to give something my all and try harder when a team is relying on me. Insofar as I use racing as a way of getting myself to work out hard, it works best in the context of teams.

competition · cycling · fitness · racing

From DNF to podium, oh, Zwift

I had a odd night on Zwift recently.

I was scheduled to do the Monday night race that my team organizes. Fine. I did a short 5 km warm up. All good but then the race began and the speed was not something I had any hope of maintaining. Wowsa.

Zwift starts are brutal at the best of times. Unlike real road races there’s no gentle rolling away from the start. You’re in danger of losing the group right off the bat. But usually things settle down.

Reader, this race did not settle down. I hung in there and stuck with the front group of women for first 10 km of the Monday night race and then decided it was too long, too fast for me. We were averaging 40 km/hr and I was dying with 30 km to go so for the first time in a Zwift race I pulled the plug without completing the distance.

DNF time.

DID NOT FINISH.

I was already warmed up though and I still wanted to ride so I browsed my activity options on the Companion app. I might have opted for a fast social ride if one was happening but there wasn’t one. Instead, I saw that a 7 km sprint race was about to begin. I love sprinting. It’s kind of my thing I quickly hopped over to the sprint race and sprinted away. In that race I stayed with the front group with energy to sprint all out at the end.

I came third! Woohoo! The joys of a really good warmup. And knowing your strengths. And knowing when to bail.

My total for the night was 22 km. One DNF, one trophy for my virtual trophy case.

(An aside: Part of the problem and the explanation for what happened in the first race is with the women’s category. I’ve worried about this before. For all riders there’s A, B, C, and D groups based on power and performance. The idea is that you race with people with whom you’re competitively matched. It makes amateur racing fair and fun. There’s also a women’s category and the women’s category contains all women regardless of their power. Lots of the women race in the B category. I’m currently a D but “almost C.” I should race with the D group. That’s the category I won in the Sprint race after bailing on the Monday Night Madness race. Why did I race with the women? That’s the topic for another post. But the short answer is I’m trying to support women’s racing and help out my team and we benefit from having riders in the all the categories.)

A gold trophy, from Unsplash
competition · cycling · fitness

Losing the last of my London QOMs!

A year ago I blogged about shifting my QOM focus to Guelph. See Making Strava Segment Goals for Guelph 

Sesame Street News Flash | Muppet Wiki | Fandom
Newsflash!

It hasn’t happened. The pandemic happened. I’m riding outside again but I’m been keeping speed for indoors and Zwift. I still think I don’t want to risk anything bad happening during a pandemic. I would feel like an idiot hurting myself on my bike in these circumstances. Okay, I always feel like an idiot hurting myself on my bike but the extra COVID-19 oomph puts it over the edge.

The latest “uh oh” email–Dethroned!–tells me I lost the a London segment I’ve held as the fastest woman since 2014. I love how Strava suggests you message the rider and congratulate them. Um, no?

QoM v KoM: Strava's Genders (Guest Post) – FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE
I don’t know who you are but I will find you and take back my QOM.

(Update: The person took it down. Her average speed on the segment according to Strava was 67 km/hr. LIkely she left her Garmin on in the car. It happens.)

There are now just 4 London QOMs in my Strava trophy case. Mostly they’re flat and of a certain distance. This one is 800 metres. I like that distance. It’s also flat. I like that too. Though I did have one uphill, see I got an uphill QOM! But it didn’t stick for too long. I think the blog’s Kim Solga has it now!

What’s Strava?

What’s Strava? Strava is a ride/run tracking app. You can either use it on its own or share your Garmin bike computer data with it.

What’s a Strava segment? Segments are one of Strava’s coolest features. Segments are user-created, user-edited, and designate a portion of route where users can compete for time.

skitch_iphoto.export.skitch.png

What’s a QOM?

“KOM or QOM Crown: If you achieve the fastest time on a segment, you’ll receive a special crown, meaning that you are the KOM or QOM of that segment (acronyms stand for King of the Mountain and Queen of the Mountain). This crown is awarded at the time of upload if you are at that time the leader on the segment. Since Achievement Awards do not refresh in real time, even if someone later beats your time, you will still be able to see the gold crown on that activity page.

Your KOM/QOM crowns are stored in a special list on Strava for your reference. “My KOMs” or “My QOMs” is a page stored under “KOMs/CRs” or “QOMs/CRs” accessed from your Profile page. It will keep a current list of all the KOMs or QOMs you currently hold.

Note: if you tie for a KOM/QOM, you will not be awarded the KOM/QOM crown, and the crown will not be recorded in the “My KOMs/QOMs” list”

Why do I care?

I’m not offering this discussion up as reasons for you to care. You can totally not care about speed or relative-to-others speed when you’re riding your bike. You can enjoy riding without a bike computer or with a bike computer and not uploading rides to Strava. Or you can have a bike computer, upload rides to Strava and still not care about QOMs. You might not have a competitive bone in your body or you might have one but think you’re happier not indulging it. There are lots of different ways to be in the world and I’m good with most of them.

But, true confession here, I do care. It’s fun and motivational for me to try to go faster than others have gone. I’m happy to restrict the others to “other women.” Kim has an interesting post about QOMs and KOMs here.

I like getting it out of my system on Zwift or chasings QOMs. Aside from sprinting with Coach Chris and friends and playfully racing friends up hills, I mostly don’t try to go faster than the people with whom I’m riding. I view riding with others as a cooperative thing.

It’s good for me to be reminded of my strengths–sprinting, for example–as I’m not the typical age or weight of a speedy road cyclist. I feel motivated by segments in a way that I don’t feel motivated by doing sprint intervals on my own. They make me work harder. I also like comparing my speeds on segments over time. See I’m getting faster: Using Strava segments to tack progress over time.

Here’s tips on how to take a Strava QOM.

You can follow me on Strava, here.

competition · covid19 · Guest Post · race report · racing · triathalon

Mary’s non-race race report (Guest post)

by Mary Case

May 31st 2020.  It is race day. Perfect conditions in Middleton Connecticut where the 70.3 Half Iron Man is scheduled. The sky is a clear blue; the temperature is 16 degrees in the early morning with no call for rain.

This day has been years in the making with hard physical and mental preparation, not to mention the hill repeats. This was the race to celebrate retirement from thirty-five years of teaching.

However, this race is not happening.

Covid- 19 a closed border, and I’m recovering from a broken wrist. This day is turning in a different direction.

This is a non-race race day.

What does someone do with a non-race race day?

Option number one: stay in bed. Duly considered. It is an unseasonable 9 degrees in London, Ontario.

Option two: drink tea and eat pancakes loaded with fresh maple syrup, topped with coconut whipped cream and fresh fruit followed by a Netflix binge. (Now we are talking. But as it turns out, this comes later.)

Option three: race!

What! Race? Is that even possible?

How does one define a race anyway?

Who decided it has to look a certain way?

What would be fun?

What else is possible here that I have not considered?

What is it I really love about race day?

What part of that can be duplicated, and how?

And so, as I stare longingly at my triathlon gear, the non race, race day plan is created.

No alarm set, no travel required. Not so bad really.

Race day breakfast is prepared. Steel cut oats with fresh fruit, maple syrup, sunflower seeds, dried cherries and almond milk. Delicious.

Support crew John Case has absconded for the day. It begins with him walking the dog and preparing a few more nutrition pieces for my day. I am warming up with some running drills and a short walk.

And the non-race race begins. 

I chose to start with the bike. 

Mary’s living room bike trainer set up

Rule number one of the non-race race day: break the rules to create what works for you.

So, the order of events is changed.

I hop on my bike trainer. Still somewhat limited with gear changing due to the weakness in my wrist, it seems the next best option when not able to ride outside. I choose a 1:45 minute program found in Trainer Road, one I had completed already in early February. I set a challenging Functional Threshold number.

Knowing that this was a race and not “just” a training ride, there was no taking a break. No stopping on the last set when it got challenging. This was a race, and when the going got tough the mental game was ramped up. I found this ride a great challenge and pushed through the last ten minutes as if ascending one of the challenging hills of Connecticut in anticipation of the final downhill into the town. My heart rate was elevated, my legs were burning, and I felt great.

Phase two: run. Unfortunately, my wrist is not so happy with the jarring motion of running, and so we get a new phase two: walk.

Mary getting ready to walk

No problem, no rules here. I call my friend Chris for some social distance phase two support and we head out on a favourite University Hill route at a brisk pace. I am grateful for the company.

One hour and fifty minutes later, a 10k walk is complete. It was a gorgeous day. Perfect temperature. I notice things that perhaps would go unnoticed when wrapped up in the focused intensity of running. The flowers, the river flowing, the birds singing. This non-race race thing is not all that bad.

Now, home for phase three. I am delighted that I have an outdoor swimming pool as all public pools have been closed since Covid-19. I change into my Canadian Triathlon Suit for full effect and head to the water.

Mary in her pool

The non-swim swim in the non-race race consists of short lengths, some water running and drills for 30 minutes. Not quite the open water swim that I love so much, but I was grateful for this option.

In the end, the non-race race was half the time and distance of the Half Ironman. There were no cheering crowds, finish lines, expos and aid stations. I did not receive a medal or a fancy hat. I still do not have that 70.3 bumper sticker to display on my car and… I am so grateful for this non-race race day. 

Amidst these crazy times, this was a day just for me. It was simple, challenging and rewarding, and it reminded me, as cliché as it sounds, that sometimes it is not about the destination, but about the journey.  

It is about resiliency, about choice, about flexibility and adaptation in this game called life.

Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.

competition · cycling · fitness · racing

Ways of organizing amateur athletes for fair and fun competition

I’ve been racing lots on Zwift lately. See Six Things I Love about Racing in Zwift.

It’s fun. I like riding and racing with a team.

One of the things that’s interesting are the different ways races are organized to make racing fun and fair. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s no fun if you have zero chance of winning and not fair, maybe, if you’re competing against younger, fitter, more powerful riders. So bike races use categories to divide up riders to make the competition more even.

Think of it like one design sailboat racing where everyone races the same style of boat. Or car racing where there are rules about what the cars raced are like. There’s less determined by gear and skill is more of a factor. It’s like that bike racing only instead of boats, it’s bodies. Now it’s true that in both real life, and in Zwift, we’re also riding different bikes–Zwift has different classes of virtual bikes and some are more aero, lighter, faster. You acquire them by “buying” them with virtual coinage you acquire by riding lots. That’s an element of the “game” part of Zwift. But the big difference isn’t bikes, it’s rider power, measured in watts. Some cyclists are more powerful than others and Zwift divides riders in various ways.

Here’s three different ways of classifying riders in Zwift races that I’ve experienced. I’m sure there are others.

The most obvious one is by sex. Tonight I’m racing in the Monday Madness series. It’s a team based series across categories A-E. Cats A-D are open to all riders and the differences between them are based on your power output. I started out in D but as I got fitter and faster I got bumped to C. Roughly, C means that I race somewhere between 2.5-3.1 watts/kg.

Cyclists care about power, but what really matters, unless you’re riding on very flat terrain, is power to weight ratio, or watts per kg. Here is an explanation.

Here’s me in the yellow TFC jersey between two men racing in the D category.

An aside: Entering a race in a category below the one in which you should be racing for the purposes of an easy win is “sandbagging.” Zwift has introduced the green cone of shame which appears above your head while riding if you exceed the power limits for the category in which you’re racing. See Zwift takes steps to limit sandbagging. They also notify you in advance. In my case I got disqualified, DQ’ed, after my first race that I won while exceeding the power limits for D, and the next time I registered for C. All good–no cone of shame. Phew!

Image from Zwift Insider, https://zwiftinsider.com/anti-sandbagging-test/

But tonight I’m racing in E, which is the women’s category which is open to all women riders. That means that I’ll be racing against women in all categories. Ouch! I won’t win. I might come in somewhere in the middle. But that’s true for me in C too. I was winning D races but as I got faster it was no longer fair to have me in the D cat. Why race in the women’s cat? Well, it’s a team sport and our team gets points for having riders in each of the categories.

In an ideal world, I think that we won’t need special categories for women riders. Certainly lumping all the women together isn’t fair. But lots of women want to race against other women. In the real world, I can see that, especially in amateur racing.

I’ve also raced in Zwift in age groups. But again that was a little strange. There are some very fast 50-somethings out there! My theory is that lots of people ride and race in their 20s and 30s but by the time you get to 50 only the fast people are sticking with it.

Anyway, it’s complicated but I like that there are a variety of ways of dividing up riders to make racing more fun.


competition · cycling · Guest Post · injury · triathalon

What does retirement, Covid19, an orange cast and a cancelled race, have in common? (Guest post)

by Mary Case

In January I wrote a blog post about my first week of retirement. It was filled with the joyful anticipation of long workouts in preparation for a half ironman race in May, a lane to myself in the pool, lots of recovery time, the freedom to train when I wanted and workouts at what I would call ‘civilized” hours.

As the month unfolded, it was all of that and more. Building through February to cycling over two and a half hours on the trainer, while indulging in classical music on CBC radio, longer runs built up to 13k , long swims and a stunning trip to Arizona for hiking and outdoor adventures. I was on target for race day, May 31st.

And then things changed a little. First a small injury requiring a shift from running to walking for a bit. No big deal. This, while somewhat frustrating, could be managed. I did notice however, how challenging it was to “slow down”. Little did I know what “slowing down” would come to mean.

Fast forward one month to March 1st. I was walking my dog Ranger, the last vestiges of ice on the sidewalks, when this walk was cut abruptly short with a fall on the ice resulting in a broken wrist.

I digress briefly in this blog from my theme here, to acknowledge the incredible kindness of strangers I experienced as people stopped their cars, called an ambulance, made sure I was warm, called my hubby and took care of the dog. True angels of humanity.

Many hours later I was sporting a beautiful orange cast. It seemed only fitting that I choose the Balance Point Triathlon team color.

Author on bike trainer, sporting orange cast supported on pillow

Now what? This is taking slowing down to yet another level. As the bones heal, Netflix binging becomes the activity of choice. Sitting still for this girl, proves to be somewhat challenging.

Meanwhile enter the unprecedented times of Covid 19. Social distancing, the closing of many of my frequent hangouts; gyms, pools, yoga studios, physio clinics. While the time frame for wearing a cast and slowing down for it, was somewhat annoying, there was light and recovery at the end of the tunnel. Now what?

The pain of the injury subsides and the body is restless. Slowly I am able to add some time on the bike trainer with the arm propped up and the arm can now be at my side for some longer walks. 

I start to notice something on these walks. There is a sense of peace in this slowing down. I hear the birds, my senses are heightened. The traffic is quiet. There is not the constant mind chatter of the next workout, of pace times, of calculating nutrition needs. Something is shifting.

And then the announcement that the race is cancelled. While this was at first difficult, I do notice that I slow down again. Things that were relevant it my world fade for now. There is more space. Priorities change. My thoughts shift especially as I witness what others are going through. How important really is a pace time?

I know that I will ramp my training up again at some point in the future. My body loves to move, it loves a challenge and it really does not do Netflix well. Who knows what racing will look like in the future and when that will take place?

What does Retirement, Covid 19, an orange cast and a cancelled race have in common? For me it is the gift of slowing down. The chance to be still, to play a little with technology, to read, to listen to the birds and meditate. I reprioritize and experience life in a different way, if only for a little while.

 Meanwhile, the tires remain pumped.

Nostalgic photo of author at empty race site. 

Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker, an Access Consciousness Certified Facilitator and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.

competition · fitness · Guest Post · running

The Women Runners of Kelowna (Guest Post)

by Alison Conway

Diane Leonard, Grand Master of the Maui Marathon, Sunday, Jan. 19th, 2020.

Malindi Elmore, from my home town, smashed the Canadian women’s marathon record on Sunday, running a blistering 2:24:50. Canadian Running observed that it has been a spectacular year for Canadian women runners. Twenty records have fallen over the past thirteen months. In Houston, as Malindi was crushing the marathon, Natasha Wodak became the first Canadian woman to run the half marathon in under 70 minutes. 

Fingers crossed, Malindi will run for Canada in Japan this summer, and I know the Kelowna running community will be glued to the live stream when she races. The success of our home-town superstar reflects the achievements of a larger group of amazing women runners of all ages and stages. Liz Borrett, age 80, ran the Boston and London marathons back to back last April, winning her age group at both races. Christy Lovig was the top Canadian woman at the New York marathon in November. Diane Leonard, age-group winner of the 2017 Boston, was declared Grand Master of the Maui marathon the same day Malindi broke the tape in Houston. Kelowna is home to Cindy Rhodes, six-time winner of the Victoria marathon.

I have often speculated that there is something in the Okanagan water that makes for such greatness. But having run with the Kelowna Running Club for the past two years, I’m pretty sure it’s about the running community, a community that has fostered women’s running for decades, even when running—especially the marathon—was all about men. The loneliness of the long-distance runner is well documented, but in this place, everyone has your back, whether it’s Park Run or Boston that you want to race.

When I moved to Kelowna, my friends in Ontario warned me: “Those people out there, they’re not kidding.” And it’s true—they aren’t. They race to win. And racing to win is not for everyone. But the joy of racing, at any level, is the about the joy of testing your limits. And for me, testing limits and gaining confidence in the face of adversity (currently, the fresh hell that is the marathon), is part of the feminist work I undertake as a daily practice. The women of Kelowna push me forward when I want to step back. Of my half marathon performance in the fall, a running friend observed, “I thought you would do better.”  When I say these words to myself, they are part of a language of self-criticism and defeat. When I hear them from a friend, they motivate me to reach the standard she has set for me. The same is true on a long run. When a Boston veteran tells me I had better pick it up for the last five kilometres of a 20 km run, you can be sure I get my ass in gear. I run harder because the women of Kelowna believe in me, even when I don’t believe in myself.

On Sunday, while Malindi was chasing her PB in Houston, I was running a half marathon in California, and Diane was running her full in Maui. I thought of my fellow Kelowna women as I ran, knowing that all three of us were suffering.  As I reached mile ten, a woman came up on my shoulder. “Let’s pass these guys,” she said, nodding at the men in front of us. In that moment, I remembered what is distinctly feminist, for me, about racing. Women prove, by their efforts, that they have great strength, strength that often goes unrecognized and unrewarded in our culture. We prove that we are determined to overcome the barriers we encounter. We prove that we will get to the finish line, one way or another, with the help of our friends and allies.  Approaching the end of my race in Pasadena, I saw a young woman in front of me struggling. “You’ve got this,” I said as I came up beside her, and she took off. I kept her in my sites as I ran for my PB. I was doing my thing, and she was doing hers. But we were doing it together.

Alison Conway works and runs in Kelowna, BC.

body image · competition · diets · fitness · weight loss · weight stigma

Can you watch the Biggest Loser ironically?

No. That’s my answer anyway.

I have some thin friends who say that they just watch it for a joke. They’re looking forward to new episodes. It’s so bad, it’s good they say. I’m not a “it’s so bad it’s good” kind of person.

I said, just stop. It’s not funny. It’s abusive. It doesn’t work. It hurts people. But also, it affects your attitudes towards fat people. Did you know that?

“A 2012 study published in the journal Obesity found that people who watched just one episode of the show exhibited higher levels of explicit bias against fat people. “Participants who had lower BMIs and were not trying to lose weight had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals following exposure to The Biggest Loser compared to similar participants in the control condition,”the researchers found. Just one hour of watching the show left thinner people with an even greater personal dislike of fat people.” From Jillian Michaels and the Alarming Legacy of the Biggest Loser.

What do you think? We know that my sense of humour about the treatment of large bodied people by the media is running low. You might have read my very very cranky review of Brittany Runs a Marathon.

You can’t miss the announcements: “The all-new Biggest Loser | Premieres January 28th‎.” But you don’t have to watch the show.

We’ve written about the show before. Lots. As you can guess we don’t much like it.

From the Olympics to the Biggest Loser? Say it ain’t so Holly

TV shows, fitness, and weight loss: Love and hate

I know the mistake they made: The biggest losers just stopped exercising

More on the mistakes the biggest losers make: But what about muscle?

The biggest losers just did it the wrong way! They lost the weight too quickly!

Extreme Dieting and Metabolic Adaptation: The “Biggest Loser” Dataset (Guest Post)

Imagine if size didn’t matter. Can you?

So has Caitlin at Fit and Feminist:

THE ‘SHOCKING’ OUTCOME OF THE BIGGEST LOSER IS NOT ALL THAT SHOCKING

Don’t watch the Biggest Loser. Watch this great ad instead!

competition · cycling · fitness · Guest Post · racing · running · swimming · triathalon

Is this what retirement is like? (Guest post)

by Mary Case

Day one of retirement was officially declared a “jammie” day. No alarm clock, a pot of tea, a good book, feet up, sitting in front of the fireplace. It was blissful and lasted almost ninety minutes.

Author in a comfortable arm chair, sitting in front of a fireplace with her feet up, reading a book with her dog at her side.

And then that was enough for the dog who, delighted that there was another human home, insisted on a walk.

Somewhat reluctantly I changed out of my jammies.

It is so quiet and peaceful on this crisp winter’s day.  No noise except the occasional passing car. Was this what it’s like, this retirement thing?

I returned home an hour later, fully intending to return to my perch. (My colorful, cozy jammies now replaced with walking gear, looking suspiciously like running gear), and then I had a vision: an empty pool, a lane to myself perhaps. Was that actually possible? 

Empty YMCA pool.  All lanes free.

It was too irresistible, and so the perch by the fireplace was abandoned again. And there it was: my empty lane. Two kilometres of blissful, uninterrupted swim strokes.

Was this what retirement is like?

The choice to retire from teaching elementary school music was a tough one. I loved my job and was not particularly desperate to get out. 

I had a fulfilling and vibrant career but, I was curious what life would be like on the other side. 

Last fall, in a moment of “but what will I do when I retire?” I wondered what it would be like to be a gym rat, and so I approached my computer in search of half ironman races. These are called 70.3’s in the triathlon world. It seemed a good idea at the time, and it was a distance that my years as a triathlete had prepared me for. 

I chose a date. May 31st, that worked for me. It would have been concert prep time, if I was not retired. 

I chose a location. Connecticut, I could drive there. 

Done! I signed up. 

Oops. I missed a little bit of homework here. I found out later that this half ironman is called the Beast of the East. 

As I write this blog, week one of retirement is almost over. It’s also my 59th birthday. I think about this “fitness” thing. For me, it’s always about the joy of seeing what my body is capable of. I do not have a point of view about speed, competition, losing weight, or much of anything else. 

I love a challenge; my body loves to move endlessly, and the amazing thing is that I am fitter, faster and stronger than I have ever been. 

I think I might  be able to get used to the quiet, the recovery time and being able to head to the gym, my trainer or the road, at hours that do not involve the numbers 4, 5, or 6 attached to “a.m.” 

I think I can get used to this thing called retirement. And who knows, hills may just become my new best friends. 

Author, School photo.  Looking very professional in a pink top and pearls.

Mary is a recently retired Elementary School Music Teacher, an Energetic Body Worker and a professional violinist. When not involved in any of the capacities mentioned above, she can often be spotted in water, on a bike, or running to prepare for her next triathlon.  

competition · Guest Post · race report · racing

Moving around (Guest post)

By Şerife Tekin

    Exercise was not a regular part of my life until my early 20s. Not because I did not like being active, it was simply not an opportunity or privilege afforded to the kids of middle income families in the 1990s Turkey. I was able to swim, however, in the summers, and I felt so at HOME in the Aegean waters.  I discovered running as a young adult during my MA in a super cold city in Western Canada (Saskatoon!) thanks to my roommate K and continued to run on and off during my PhD in Toronto. Loved running around the Lake Ontario: was as close as I could get to the Aegean.

    I never considered myself an athlete though, because (i) I wasn’t particularly fast nor ambitious enough to get faster, (ii) I mostly ran solo, so was not part of a “team spirit”, and (iii) I ran so that I could write: I never ran for running’s sake. I grew the habit of drafting my papers, and then eventually my dissertation during these long runs. My love of running complemented my love of writing. It was during those years that I read Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I talk About Running” so many times. 

    I trained for and finished my first ever half marathon when I was 29 with a beloved Toronto friend a few months before I finished my PhD. I was 29. Fast forward 10 years: Moved 5 more times in 10 years (academic job market!!!), went through several episodes of back pain exacerbated by a combination of cold weather, job market stress, sitting long hours on horrible chairs to write. I continued to run on and off, even did half marathons with my students, but never dared to call myself a runner. I also started spinning at indoors with my friend A: Spinning kept us warm and cozy during the epic snowpocalypses of Buffalo. I always wanted to incorporate running and cycling into my daily routine and start swimming but the perpetually cold weather, pre-tenure grind, and the intermittent back and knee problems were not particularly helpful. 

    Things have finally changed for the better when I moved to San Antonio: Even before my fly out for my job interview I knew everything about the UTSA’s gorgeous heated outdoor pool and how warm the city stays in the winter! I got the job. Within first few months of moving down, I started biking in the gorgeous trails that lace around the city and took lessons to improve my swim. My swim coach introduced me to the UTSA triathlon club and Paragon Training and for the first time in my life I started regularly training with a super supportive team of athletes from different walks of life under the leadership of my inspiring coach Mark Saroni. It was January 2019. It was a humbling start, I felt like I was constantly trying to catch my breath during the swims, and just “wanted to die” during the 5k run time trials. To my surprise, however, I did start feeling like an athlete even though I was and still am constantly struggling. Overall, I had more energy. I was a lot happier. I made great friends which was SO welcome because moving – yet again— to a new city in mid-life is NOT easy even for social butterflies like me.

    I did my first Sprint Triathlon at the end of September in a cute Texas Hill Country town. Not only was I able to finish, I also got pretty good results. Most importantly I had so MUCH fun. I loved the high energy nature of the sprint triathlon; I loved how focused I was during the race: just one breath, one stroke, one pedal, one step at a time. After the race, I started training more. 

    Today I raced the running only component of Texas Tough Duathlon which is put on by the UTSA’s triathlon team (go Runners!!) and Paragon Training. Caveat: there were NOT that many runners, but the course was super hilly and I broke a PR – 8.43/mile – and won the first place among women. I am so happy and proud of how far I have come.  After having moved around all years, literally and figuratively, I am happy to have found a community that moves around with me to “suffer faster,” in our coach Mark’s words. What I learned from fellow athletes is that you start planning your next race the second you are done with one: For me, it is a Half Ironman, for which I shall start training once I get tenure.

Şerife Tekin is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Medical Humanities at UTSA. When she is not moving around she can be found petting her kitty cat Cortez. Her website is www.serifetekin.com.