competition · cycling · fitness · race report · racing · team sports · Zwift

This post is brought to you by technical difficulties, #Zwift

Brightly colored bars indicating technical difficulties

Tonight’s Zwift race, a team time trial which was three laps of Watopia’s Hilly Route, was for me an exercise in technical difficulties. Also, hills. And a smaller roster than usual of teammates. But mostly technical difficulties.

I began with my phone at 5 percent battery and the threat of losing discord loomed large. I plugged the phone in but it doesn’t charge that quickly. Discord matters because it’s how we communicate who is next up in the sequence of riders, how we’re feeling, how long a pull we want to take at the front and so on. There might also be some crying, swearing, and whining. We agreed I’d use the app to signal with my avatar’s arm if I lost Discord and wanted to skip my turn at the front. We had a set order of rotation of riders and in theory it ought to be okay with one of us out of communication.

Here’s me at the start. On the left, my avatar is in yellow TFC kit, with a pink Zwift academy hat and socks. On the right, actual me looks nervous about the race. My team lost two riders at the last minute. One didn’t get in the start pen in time and the other got stuck at work. I had been telling myself that I only needed to do two laps and that we could send the four best climbers ahead on our third time up the KOM. This is now no longer true. Gulp.

Left: Avatar Sam in the pen before the race start. Right: Actual Sam on her bike looking worried.

In the end my phone stayed charged. But I had bigger problems. My internet was wonky and I kept losing everyone on the screen. For about half the race it looked like I was riding alone. I had to use the listing of riders on the right hand side of the screen to “see” where I was in the group. Pacing was a challenge. I kept going off the front because my big worry was being dropped. It wasn’t until the final lap that I could consistently see my teammates which is strange and challenging in a team time trial.

We also lost a teammate tonight who got dropped and isn’t coming back next week. I feel bad about that and wish I could have explained better what was going on. Teams are hard work that way.

All of this reminded me of my worst technical glitch ever, completely losing power in a race and getting dropped. I wasn’t sure what happened until Sarah and I looked at the trainer after. The extension cord plug which leads to the trainer had come unplugged.

Here’s our high tech fix!

A plug held in place with electrical tape

Anyway, in the end we did okay technical glitches and all.

Wish me luck next time!

competition · cycling · racing · team sports · Zwift

Doing hard things in hard times

I raced my bike tonight. I wasn’t so sure I would. This week has been extra busy with work and extra stressful with the US election still in progress. Like many people, I haven’t had my best sleep this week.

Still, you know I love team time trials.

But….this was on the UCI worlds course in virtual Richmond. Very hilly. Not one but two laps.

Zwift describes it this way, “The Richmond UCI Worlds route is a replica of the 2015 UCI Road World Championships course in Richmond, Virginia, USA. It was at this race where Peter Sagan famously attacked on 23rd Street to eventually win his first World Champs jersey. It’s a wonderful race course, with very flat first half and a nice mix of attackable climbs on the back half.” Read more here.

Photo from Zwift Insider

I did a ride-over of the course last night at a recovery ride pace to check it out. That was enough to make me reconsider my commitment to riding in the team time trial. The first 10 km of the loop are fine. Fast and flat. The final 6 km is a series of three hills. Once, okay. But twice? I wasn’t so sure.

My worry is always, in a team event, slowing the group down on hills and putting team members in the awkward spot of having to decide whether to wait for me. I know I contribute in some contexts. I can be powerful on the flats and I’m good at bringing other people back to the group. I’m helpful at closing gaps. I can also sprint. But hills? Hills are my nemesis and when I’m alone it’s my burden to bear but in a team context I worry about letting others down.

But there’s only so many times you can click refresh on your browser and hope for good election news. I decided I would definitely race with TFC Phantom. Phantom is a Mocha class team, within TFC, one of the older Zwift racing teams. We’re a team of 6-8 regulars. Tonight it was Jim, Jack, Keith, George, Tom and me. We all live in the US and Canada, across a few different time zones.

Surprisingly, given the course and general stress and lack of sleep, I had a great time. A few kilometres in, I stopped worrying about the election. We had worked out our pace line and we were taking 30 second turns on the front. You work at or above FTP on the front, and then drop to the back of the line and recover. What’s FTP? Stay tuned for next week’s post.

I felt I was able to contribute and was riding pretty strong. We were 6 riders but only four need to cross the finish line. On the issue of hills, we’ve gotten better as a team at making a plan and sticking to it. We decided to stay together until the start of the hills in lap two. At that point we’d see who still had the energy and send the four fastest riders ahead. Spoiler: I wasn’t one of the four. We stuck together until the final 5 km. I did finish two laps of the course and finished not too far behind my better hill climbing teammates.

It was a good race for us. There was lots of teamwork and supportive chat. We had a pretty organized pace line for most of it. Everyone took turns at the front and we didn’t have any technical problems.

Here we are!

I laughed out load when the ride uploaded to Strava. That was a harder effort than usual. Thanks Strava.

Tonight I also hit 4000 km in Zwift. I got to level 23. I unlocked some new socks. And I got to 29,000 m of climbing. I need 50,000 for my Tron bike. Also, I got a bunch of PRs on that course.

I was hoping for something more definitive in election news when I got off the bike. But no. Still I’m smiling. I did a hard thing that I thought was outside my doable range. I’m tired. And I’ll sleep tonight.

Cate asked this morning what we’re all doing for self care in these stressful times. Definitely Zwift racing is part of it for me.

See you all in the morning!

Update: We came 31 our of 63 teams in our category. Not bad.

competition · cycling · fitness · training · Zwift

Canadian cycling on Zwift

CYCLING CANADA EXPANDS VIRTUAL CYCLING OPPORTUNITIES:

“As national federations around the globe continue to gear up for the inaugural UCI Cycling Esports World Championships on December 8-9, Cycling Canada is excited to announce an expanded multi-platform virtual cycling calendar for the 2020/2021 winter season.

“Virtual cycling represents an exciting discipline of the sport which allows our community to stay connected in a virtual world year-round” said Josh Peacock, Events & Partnerships Manager at Cycling Canada. “We are thrilled to play a part in helping to grow this discipline in Canada, while at the same time keeping our growing cycling community connected.”

Cycling Canada’s virtual cycling events will kick off on November 2 on the Zwift platform with the introduction of the Cycling Canada “Weekly Tune-up” group ride series and “Wednesday Night Race Series”. Both initiatives will be listed on the public Zwift event calendar, open to all Zwift subscribers.”

See here for more details.

Things start tonight with a tune-up ride at 8:05 pm EST.

“Every Monday and Tuesday at 8:05 p.m. EST, Cycling Canada will host 45 minute group rides open to all skill levels and abilities on rotating courses. Monday rides will be co-ed, while Tuesday rides will be exclusive to women. Course offerings will vary from week to week in an effort to provide a well-rounded mix of training opportunities for Zwifters of all backgrounds. The weekly tune-up will be a medium-paced social ride (2.0 – 2.5 w/kg), led by some of Canada’s top coaches and athletes. Zwifters can expect a fun, interactive community atmosphere with regular efforts to build fitness. The weekly tune-up series will also serve as a social pre-ride for Cycling Canada’s Wednesday Night Race Series, offered on the same course as each week’s ride.

Every Wednesday at 8:05 p.m. EST, Cycling Canada will host a public race open to all skill levels on rotating courses in line with our weekly tune-up rides. This series will offer something for everyone while exploring every corner of Zwift’s virtual world. Zwifters will have the opportunity to register in one of five power-based categories, including a women’s specific category. This series will not include a ranking or series points, but is rather intended as a means of offering a fun weekly challenge for Zwifters of all abilities.

For a complete list of Cycling Canada Zwift events, including course maps, click here. Sign up to participate via the Zwift Companion App, or click here for the complete Zwift event listing.”

I’m not sure that I can take part regularly. See this morning’s post about racing and scheduling rest and recovery :). But I am hoping I can make it to some of the events.

Enjoy! If you go write and let us know what it was like.

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.