Saturday, May 26, 2012

What my Olympian Friends Taught Me

Over the past few years, my admiration for athletes has faded. Athletes are not feeding starving children, stopping wars, or saving the trees.. so why is an individual's pursuit of glory inspirational?

When I was a kid, it was always easy for me to preach the benefits of sport: It builds discipline, teaches goal setting, pain tolerance.. etc, etc. But now, I sometimes wonder why I am doing an undergrad in sports science (besides the fact that I enjoy it). How does helping athletes help make the world a better place? Maybe I lost my faith in sport when one of my profs told me about another student she used to teach who "used to do triathlon for herself, but wasn't fulfilled until she switched to running races for charity." As in, 'god forbid you would do sport for purely selfish reasons' (totally unrelated, but that also happened to be my least favourite class of all time). Or maybe it was watching my brother grow up, and not sell his soul to competitive sport like I did, and not only turn out ok (well so far), but you know.. also have a childhood, a social life, and the ability to pursue a whole array of interests. Other than my summers which were pretty darn good, I think I've done a decent job of blocking most of my childhood and teenage years from my memory because they mostly involved my sister and I being totally exhausted, generally depressed from the exhaustion, usually sick, and dreading going to swim practice. I borderline sucked at swimming. Like I was a tiny bit better than completely sucking, but not much.
I'm pretty sure the early morning workouts stunted my growth.
I don't really know why I stuck with it... I mean other than because I irrationaly thought I would be a huge disappointement to my family, and forever be branded as a quitter if I stopped. I never really contemplated quitting swimming though because when I was 10 or 11 and my swim coach asked us to write down our dream goals, I wrote: go to the olympics in triathlon. And in Calgary competitive swimming seemed to be the only way to set me up for that (thankfully, I did begin to improve AFTER I finished club swimming and moved to the NTC).
Watching the final Olympic qualifier for London reminded me why athletes are inspirational, and why sport is good for something after all.
I realized that no matter what every Olympic medallist had to get through to reach that point, so so many other just as deserving athletes also had to overcome equally great odds... and failed. It's like the dumb saying that you can do anything you set your mind to. Bull****.  You are told that if someone sacrifices everything, overcomes hurdle after hurdle, that eventually they will succeed. Reality is, that for reasons within or beyond your control, you can't always do everything you set your mind to doing.What is inspiring is the attempt. To let go of self-doubts and fully commit to attempting the impossible. That is what is courageous.
Athletes (and often their support team) can never clock out and leave their work at work. They often sacrifice everything: having friends, starting families, an education, a real career, interests/hobbies, weekend camping trips, beers with friends, a real income, relationships... all for (as Simon would say) the relentless pursuit of excellence. And yet even pursuing relentlessly isn't always enough.
The best athletes I know probably don't train the most of everyone in the whole world, and probably not the very hardest either, but like those others who are the best in the world they are willing to do everything it takes to get there. Complete single-mindedness. And they don't accept mediocrity. I think the reason why a healthy Paula has proven to be such an amazing athlete is not simply because of her talent or her training, it's her incredible focus. It is not just because she is a redhead and has a higher pain tolerance than us non-redheads, it is because even when she is doubting herself, when she is unsure whether she can hold on for the win, she never ever becomes complacent. She doesn't listen to that voice telling her that '2nd place is still awesome!!' She always always fights those demons and goes for the win. Sorry for putting you on the spot Paula :).
And I think that is the lesson that I can draw from sport: to have the self-confidence to attempt any challenge or goal in life. To understand what it really means to try your best. To dream big. To never say, 'I can't'. To never be complacent. To be willing to give your everything for a goal, and yes, possibly not achieve it, but to give it a shot anyways.

So thanks for the reminder my past-Olympian, future-Olympian, and almost-Olympian friends. Triumph or Tears, you have done great things.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

May Update

 Updating post swim at one of my favourite pools:

 I admit it. I’ve been avoiding the blog. I was hoping that if I waited long enough I would be able to write a positive, ‘training is awesome’, post, but I have finally come to accept that that is not going to happen for me this year. I even had to breach my 'never mention what month it now is rule' in order to name this blog: 'May Update'.
My knee might be doing better.??.  but it’s hard to tell. We are certainly working very hard at it. Unfortunately it might be time to turn to IT band release surgery. While biking and running were out of the equation for most of this year, I was happy to at least be swimming really well. Unfortunately after my first pro-lo injection to tighten my knee capsule, I came down with a weird immune response. The blood tests made it look like I had a virus, so maybe it was totally unrelated to the prolo, but either way it left me with some strange chronic fatigue that makes me totally incapable of training at anything over base effort. It came on so suddenly that I hoped it would just go away, but after over two months of taking it super easy (and last week totally off), if I am getting better it is happening very very slowly.
I know that many great athletes have had to miss seasons, and with that time they were able to correct their problems and return as stronger, healthier, more successful athletes. I think I am doing this. I’m definitely still in the process of doing this, and I have a long ways to go, but I’m really hoping to make this downtime into something positive for my career. Spend this year on a mega-tune up, spend next year not making the same mistakes as before, and then never be injured again! Genius! The only problem is that I can’t seem to completely give up on this season and move on (I'm only step 1: accept that it is May, not step 2 yet).
Worlds is practically in November, so that kills me. I have hope for November. Selection ends in August though, so it doesn’t matter how fit I am in the fall if I’m not fit in the summer. I mean if a miracle happens maybe I could race by August..,

I have been injured a lot in the last 4 years. I know very well how appreciative I am of having the ability to run, and bike, and even swim. However, I always thought that if a time came when I couldn’t do triathlon, I wouldn’t be too lost as I have so many other interests that I have put on hold while pursuing triathlon. Turns out that it is not so simple. I know how awful it is to not be able to train or race when you want to be, but I hadn’t realized how much I depended on the excitement of racing and training and travelling in the summer to make the exhausting winters of school and training worthwhile. I guess I am more of a triathlete than I thought. If I can't race I would love to be adventuring with my friends, maybe camping or climbing, but turns out that all my friends are in triathlon. I have no life! I sometimes get the occasional twinge of hate for everyone who is away at training camps and races who are having fun, and getting fast. I hate being out of shape. Watching recreational cyclist and joggers go by makes me cry a little inside despite knowing that there is always someone much worse off, and knowing that eventually I WILL get this all figured out. I will probably take summer courses, or at the very least get a job.. but what if that miracle happens! I also have a tremendous fear of losing my stroke in the pool, so taking more than a week completely off is out of the question. (After taking 2 weeks out of the water last fall, I came back not sure if I would ever be able to make it across the pool again, so I am never doing that again!)

I am not totally depressed about it all though. Watching the whole Olympic selection process that is going on and seeing all of the heartbreak, makes me very grateful that this is not my Olympic year, and very sad for everyone who, for some reason or other, didn’t make the cut. I’m gradually figuring out this being a not-triathlete. And while I do have twinges of hate ;), for the most part I have been quite positive. I live in the most beautiful place on the planet, so life is still awesome J
Spring at Beacon Hill
The Girls on our mini trip to Vancouver
Alex and AGame swimming and running at lake Matheson

Monday, May 7, 2012

Swimmin in the lake

Just came home from a wetsuit swim at Thetis. Swimming in May is awesome because not many people realize that on a beautiful sunny spring day the lake really isn't that bad (With a wetsuit. We swam approx 100m sans wetsuit and it really was quite bad), so of course we had the whole lake to ourselves. Alex and I did our first lake swim about 3 weeks ago because we had just got our hands on our new Aqua Sphere wetsuits, and everyone knows that trying out a wetsuit in a pool is just not the same. Even in April, swimming in the lake wasn't too cold once the extreme pain in your face and hands and feet was numbed out. Luckily, our suits do an amazing job of keeping water from coming in, so there was never any cold water swishing around which certainly would have made canadian spring swimming considerably less enjoyable. The craziest feature of the Aqua Sphere suit is this corset-type velcro around the waist that keeps you higher up in the water than any other suit I have ever tried. You literally don't even have to kick at all. Is this ITU legal? I can't wait to try it out in a real workout with the group and be like 'haha- I'm not even kicking!'
..Although I must admit, there is something about having a coach making you swim in a cold lake that makes it feel about 100 times less enjoyable than when you're doing it of your own free will. I may stick to swimming oyo in the lake on beautiful sunny afternoons for a while longer before letting Coach know that the lake is indeed swimmable.
                                  Brent demonstrating the shoulder flexibility of the AquaSphere Suits:

Tri-It, our wonderful partners in Calgary, sell Aqua Sphere gear (rumour has it Tri-It is (or is at least one of) the biggest wetsuit distributors in North America), so if anyone wants to get fit for a wetsuit by the most enthusiastic, down-to-earth, and supportive staff on the planet- I suggest giving them a visit. (*Note: If you are thinking of buying this season's super levitating Aqua Sphere suit either online, or on Tri-It's online store, they do seem to fit small so I recommend buying a size up.)

                                                      Alex Swimming a few weeks ago:

Whew. While I'm on the topic of super-sponsors. Big thanks to Asics for letting me be a part of the team again this year! I certainly struggled with picking out my shoes because there were far too many choices, and I may or may not have picked them based on how fast they look (which was difficult since they all looked fast.. hence 6 different types of shoes). I will be at the Peninsula Runners Oak Bay Half-Marathon Asics tent this weekend so come say Hi.

ps. Apologies for the videos in previous posts playing every time you go on my blog. I wish this didn't happen too.