Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Post-Race Reflection

One week following the Canmore Xterra, here’s a moment to reflect on the race and the six-month season leading up to it. I came woefully short of achieving my goals of 30min swim, 1hour45min bike and 55min run. I didn’t even come close to those times! To be fair, barring several extremely fit outliers, very few people in the race came close to my desired run and bike times (the swim goal was more reasonable). The bike and run course were significantly harder and slightly longer this year, so determining a reasonable goal was unlikely. My unrealistic goal aside, other performance metrics have to do with my place in the pack. Last year, I was 82nd out of 102 competitors (3rd out of three in my category). This year, I was 57th out of 73 finishers (4th out of seven in my category). The former is worse than the latter, so I did improve my place in the pack this year.  Furthermore, relative to the pack, I discovered that I improved in the swim and the bike this year, but not the run.

Improvement in finishing place is encouraging, but my goal times were planned with the intention of winning. Had I achieved those goals, I would have won.  Winning is contingent on who shows up on race day. But if the only thing I can control is my performance relative to my own training and I can’t control the preparation of my competitors, then I am well-advised to do a better job of my own training. My goal is to win. And if that’s going to happen next year, I better be honest with myself on how.

I suspected all along that I’d shortchanged myself during training. I drafted a six-month training plan and followed it almost exactly, but I now know the difference between winning and finishing is what happens during non-training hours. Rest, nutrition and training volume are all critical components of training. But fitting in 14 hours of training during the week so that I can go to the lake with my friends and drink and snack around the bonfire on the weekend is not an effective training strategy. It’s not the friends or the lake that are the problem, it’s the dehydrating effect of the alcohol and chips, the disruptive sleep schedule from the late nights and the stress that ensues from trying to fit in more training after a long weekend of not training.

Following the realization that non-training hours are as critical as training hours, I ask myself what I want from this triathlon business. What’s all the training for? Canmore Xterra 2018 was my eighth triathlon. The first was the Midnight Sun Triathlon in Yellowknife in 2001. If I’m dedicating 12-15 hours per week to training, and fifteen or more years to the cause, I better be clear on what it’s all for. Otherwise, it’s nothing more than an elaborate fitness plan.

So what’s it going to take? Pain. Dedication. Commitment. Sacrifice. The workouts have to be completed, attention to nutrition has to be observed, rest must be prescribed. To be the fastest, I have to be the best at training. There is no luck in triathlon and achieving this goal of winning the 2019 Canmore Xterra will not be a lucky break. It will be the product of commitment, endurance and deliberate attention to improved performance. Even though I didn’t achieve my goals this season, that doesn’t mean I didn’t teach myself how to schedule workouts, dress for fluctuating temperatures on runs, and incorporate strength training. I just have to do all those things combined with specific nutrition choices and adequate recovery.

The winning formula is training hours + recovery + nutrition. My commitment to training hours is intact. The addition of recovery time and adequate nutrition will be the catalyst for changing my outcome from a finisher to a winner.

Some photos from Xterra Canmore 2018:


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Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Creative time-saving strategies

The relentless training program continues and I feel like I’m committed to it now. In the struggle to balance training, work, family and friends, and rest time, I realize that there must not be a wasted moment. I know of some triathletes who use their commute to and from work as the bulk of their bike time. My commute is less than ten minute though, so this isn’t the place to get in my training. Instead, I use my commute as my moment to relax and allow my mind to wander. Having a lot of commitments and a long list of priorities means that my mind is always on. I’m constantly thinking about the next activity and ensuring that I’ll have adequate snacks and adequate clothing. Using the ten minutes or so on either end of the work day as a time to let my mind relax, to listen to some music or the radio and force myself not to worry about whether I’ll fit in all my training takes care of some of my designated “rest” time.

In the constant quest for available time, I have a number of time-saving shortcuts. Some more ridiculous than the others. For example, I take a lot of my groceries out of their packages and recycle the packaging right at the store. Not bringing any recycling in my front door means that I save time later by not having to bring any recycling out.

Another time-saving strategy is to only buy and wear clothing that I can do multiple activities in. On any given day, I have to do some combination of the following: ride my bike, swim, teach yoga, work at a formal office, run, fix my bike, go out in my canoe, clean up the yard, do yoga, workout at the gym, pump diesel (to heat my house), fetch water (I don’t have running water), walk the dog and cook meals. It’s a lot of activities that require a variety of outfits, and the best way to manage is to only wear comfortable items that can do most of the above activities. The foundation often starts with yoga tights. For work, I can put on a dress and blazer over top. For the yoga studio, I can put on a comfortable shirt and for all the outdoor activities, I can put dirty jeans and work gloves on over top. The next component, of course, is accepting that I’m always going to look a little scruffy. My hair will never be perfectly coiffed and my nails are unlikely to tolerate a manicure for more than a half day.

Another strategy for fitting it all in is to invite friends to join me on my activities. Unfortunately, when I get really pressed for time, the first thing I abandon is often my friendships and relationships. This is a very short-sighted strategy because not making time for quality time with loved ones means that my mental health starts to suffer. Before long, I get sad and then everything that I was trying to squeeze into my schedule starts to suffer. So the pre-emptive strategy is to fit friends into the activities. Have meals together, ride bike together, make plans to run together. Whatever works.

Another time-saving idea is to shop online. I know.  This a blatant disregard for the adage “buy local” But I just don’t have time to browse endless items and I don’t have the patience to go into stores. Online, I can log on, order exactly what I need and then it will show up on my doorstep in 5-9 business days.

The truth is that I’ve just about taken on too much stuff. The triathlon training was probably unnecessary, but as I was climbing out of the pool this afternoon, I reflected on how much I love having goals and plans. I love working towards something and I love having a plan every day. There are days that I don’t feel like doing the training, for sure, but then I get a chance to test my running or swimming speed and realize how much faster I’ve gotten since I started all this in the summer of 2015. Is it worth it to try to squeeze triathlon training into a week full of work, socializing, resting, weekend camping trips and quality time with family? Most of the time. Do I feel lonely on my bike when I’m out for a 100km ride and my friends are hanging out at a weeknight BBQ? Yes. Am I going to stick with the training? Definitely. The reality is that I simply don’t know what will come of this training. But I do know that I have to keep doing it in order to find out. Maybe nothing will come of it. Or maybe the greatest inspiration and opportunity of my life will reveal itself while I’m doing the training. So I’ll organize my time, take whatever time-saving measures necessary and stick it out until September.

Canmore XTERRA: September Long Weekend 2018

Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Hungry? Eat. Full? Stop Eating. Why can’t it be this simple?

Sighhhh. Eating. Overeating. Undereating. Nourishment. Junk food. Dinnertime. Breakfast. Why does eating have to be such an emotional struggle? The formula seems so simple. Hungry? Eat. Full? Stop eating. Wondering what to eat? Food. Mostly plants. Wondering what not to eat? Things in packages. But the reality is that the relationship between food, nourishment and satiation is a complex equation often laden with conflicting information.

I know that I’m not alone in my feelings of animosity against food. Why do all the office donuts surreptitiously disappear when nobody is looking? Why, after parties, do we throw away half finished bags of salad but we never seem to have a problem finishing bags of chips? Furthermore, why do cookbook titles include phrases like “eat clean,” “detox diet,” “keto calories,” “super foods,” “gluten-, animal- and dairy-free fare.” On the one hand, we crave the worst possible replacement for food, and on the other hand we’re being told how to avoid all of those things by eliminating dairy, meat, gluten, salt, nightshades, carbs, fat, sugar, even cooking (see: raw food diet). It seems that we’ve given up cooking food in favour of consuming nutrition (and lack therof). We follow restrictive meal plans but crave everything we’re not “allowed” to have.

Food is allegedly a source of pleasure, nourishment and energy. Yet somehow the junk food and fast food industries paired with the diet and healthy living industries have created despair and anxiety around food. We’re being sold shiny packages of jujubes and bombarded with images of frosty ice cream cones. Meanwhile, the healthy food camp coldly informs us that all that shiny sugar is bad for us and that instead we need to follow the latest fad diet. All of this to say that the information that is available on nutrition is conflicted, to say the least.

I have a veritable canon of literature on cooking and healthy eating. Books and notes and magazine articles that I’ve amassed ever since I was a teenager and first became interested in healthy eating and cooking. At the time, the ideal diet was purported to be low in fat but I remember when the Atkins diet appeared on the market, touting the benefits of a high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate, low-sugar diet. I also remember being a young athlete in my early 20s and strictly following Robert Haas’ “Eat to Win” program. Haas’ advocated for a diet high in complex carbohydrates, with attention paid to vitamins and minerals. Diets such as the Zone, and the Macro diet emphasize attention to consuming certain percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrates. Plans that include meal replacement shakes such as SlimFast and Soylent operate under the premise that calorie-control is the only way to manage weight.

While all of these diets propose reasonable premises, the most glaring omission is the acknowledgement that food, nutrition, cooking and eating are central to most aspects of our lives. We gather together to dine at restaurants; we celebrate milestones with cake; we drown our sorrows in beer; we eat for energy and we eat for pleasure; we wake ourselves up every morning with coffee and we look forward to glasses of wine at the end of the workday; we pack picnics and we seek out snacks. Our living spaces are designed around “entertaining,” which is almost always focused on lovely kitchens.

From a social perspective, eating is a cornerstone of community. But from the perspective of an athlete, eating is a source of energy and sustenance. Attention must be paid to nutrition and daily caloric requirements. A prescribed meal plan is normal. But what happens when eating and food preparation becomes a chore, another thing that has to be accomplished in the day? For an athlete, food has to promote athletic endurance. But to ignore the social aspect of eating, the sometimes celebratory nature of meals, not to mention the sensation of delicious food is missing a large part of how food contributes to our well being.  To view our bodies as little more than a science experiment where portions and macros are carefully monitored and ingested at prescribed intervals seems a heartless and overly clinical way to live. 

So what’s an athlete to do? How to find a healthy relationship with food? How to avoid processed foods and nutritionally-void items without obsessing about what is or isn’t “good”? How to socialize while simultaneously excelling at athletics?

First, don’t reward good behaviour with food. Don’t punish bad behaviour with deprivation. Don’t justify eating a bag of chips because you ran 10km earlier in the day. Let go of any guilt associated with food. By letting go of the guilt, you might ease the suffering that comes along with indulging in “bad” food. By doing so, you may find you’re able to escape the reward/punishment cycle.

Next, don’t create impossible restrictions for yourself. “I’ll never eat another cookie!” To do so is setting yourself up for failure. Just make choices at every meal that make you feel good about yourself. And if you notice while on a run that you’re feeling slow because you just ate two cinnamon buns, rephrase the statement. “I won’t eat sugar-laden treats in the five hours before a run.”

Third, learn to cook something. You don’t have to prepare from scratch every dish for a dinner party or BBQ, but teach yourself to create something that you enjoy eating. Contribute your masterpiece to the buffet table so you know there’s something at the party that you can feel good about eating.

And finally, read up on nutrition. Learn about the different diet philosophies. Understand their premises and then notice how  your body reacts to certain foods and the timing of meals. But don’t commit yourself to one overly-restrictive plan. To do so will be social suicide and also completely unnecessary. As long as you understand what makes you swim, bike and run your fastest, you can adapt your meal choices to that information.

If we look at all the diets from a a first principles perspective, the premise is usually good. Beware of eating too much (calorie control), consume an appropriate amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat for your exercise level and pay attention to all six of the food exchange lists: vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fat and water. Keep track of what makes you feel good (and fast) and let go of the guilt when you eat something that makes you feel uncomfortable and slow. With practice, the emotional attachment to food and the feelings of guilt will give way to the simple formula. Hungry? Eat. Full? Stop eating. Eat food. Mostly plants.






Skiing, Triathlon and Sports

Is recreation a healthy search for inspiration or is it nothing more than conspicuous consumption?

Halfway through the seventh week of Xterra triathlon training, and the highest volume of hours yet, I caught myself wondering what the point of it all is? Is training for a recreational race a selfish pursuit devoid of any kind of altruistic contribution to society? And if it is nothing more than a self-indulgent pastime, where does the desire to participate in such an activity come from? Am I part of a cohort who values recreation above all else? Why have we commodified recreational pursuits to the point that we’re competitive about them? Why am I striving to swim, bike and run faster than the other people?

Is training for a recreational race a selfish pursuit devoid of any kind of altruistic contribution to society?

This week’s training called for 15 hours of swimming, biking and running. I am devoting a part-time job’s amount of time to train for a race! I have so much spare time that I can spend my days running, biking and swimming for no reason other than to do those things faster. Not only that, I’m not alone in this pursuit! Whistler, where I’m currently training, has a triathlon training club. Every day, regardless of what time I go to the pool, there are other people swimming laps, training their bodies to slice through the water faster, more efficiently. Every day, regardless of what time I jump on my bike, there are other people riding shiny and expensive bikes down the trails. We’re racing each other to the bottom and taking photos for social media to prove that we’re so privileged that we can be out biking through the forest at 2pm on a Tuesday. What were once leisure pursuits have been commodified into triathlons, complete with commemorative hats, shirts, bags and increasingly expensive bikes. We have arrived at a place of such privilege that we can afford to fill our days with recreation for no higher purpose than the recreation itself,  and by wearing the hats, we are advertising to the world that we have the money to do so.

Am I part of a cohort who values recreation above all else?

Recreation or leisure occupy a block of free time that is separate from work, survival (sleeping and eating) and education. Leisure activities such as hobbies and sports are done for their own sake and are intended to provide joy, satisfaction and maybe fun. Historically, leisure is the privilege of the upper class because the opportunity to participate comes with the availability of money and time.  Leisure still may be pursued for its own sake but in the contemporary climate of glorifying non-productivity, leisure has been commodified by companies who wish to sell recreation. Sports and hobbies all include spending money on the acquisition of the necessary accoutrements. Everywhere we turn, we are being aggressively advertised to. Bikes, shoes, hats, socks, apparel…it’s all being sold to us through the glorification of athletes and “outdoorsy people.” If, as Hemingway famously said, “there are only three sports – bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering. The rest are merely games,” then why have we glorified the games? Are we so gullible to believe the hype that getting outside, playing games and entering races is an admirable use of our time?

Why have we commodified recreational pursuits to the point that we’re competitive about them? Why am I striving to swim, bike and run faster than the other people?

Is pursuing fitness and playing sports (read: games) just another example of conspicuous consumption and the glorification of non-productivity?  As I was nearing completion of my workout this morning (5x20min in heartrate zone three) I thought about what I was wearing (special bike shorts and clip-in shoes); using (a heartrate monitor and a flashy mountain bike); and doing (training my heart to be more efficient so that I can win a triathlon). The price of the clothing and gear seems incongruent with the value of the activity in my life. So I ask myself again, what’s it all for? I honestly don’t have the answer. I could say that I’m staying healthy; I could say that physical activity and fresh air is good for the soul; I could even say that my recreational pursuits are a gateway to philosophical musings such as this one, but is any of that true? Or is the truth that I’m part of an exclusive cohort who can afford to aggressively pursue leisure? I spend most of my days outside: skiing, biking, paddling and now running and swimming. I embody the advertisements that are plastered in outdoor apparel stores. I love being outside and I devote all my waking hours to figuring out what my next adventure will be. And I’m definitely not alone in this obsession. But are we the recreationalists bankrupting society of further intellectual capital? Are we so busy getting out there that we’re not contributing to society in an intellectual capacity? Or are we setting a healthy example for the desk-bound and car-bound people who envy the outdoorsy lifestyle?

I certainly don’t want to be a drain on society and I would hate to be labelled a conspicuous consumer, but I simply love recreation. Being outside, feeling my heart and leg muscles working hard, that is the place where I feel the most calm and the most inspired. The trick, I suppose, is to capitalize on that inspiration and use it to figure out what my contribution to society should be.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll swim, bike and run in the vain search for inspiration.