Tuesday, 1 November 2011

In The Beginning

When I first moved to Vancouver in early June 2006, I had never spent much time training. I would train for a week or two each year but could never find the motivation to continue. This mostly consisted of working out at the gym lifting weights and spending 15-20 minutes on a spin bike or treadmill. I had never been in a race of any type and had certainly never swam laps in a pool.

Having grown up in Montreal, I was more of a party animal than anything else.  When people ask me what my background is (swimming, biking, running?) I usually joke that I have a background in partying. Partying until 6 in the morning (or later!) was a regular thing for my friends and I. I lived in the heat of it, right in the most exciting social neighborhood in Montreal, the Plateau Mont-Royal. It was awesome and I had a whole lot of fun. I didn't even need to make arrangements with my friends. When I went to the local bars, I knew almost everyone there and they knew me. Even on the quiet nights at home watching TV I would still manage to put down a 6 pack and not even feel it.

Needless to say, I eventually started to feel like I needed something else in life. Smoking and drinking just wasn't doing it for me anymore. The voice inside my head (no, I wasn't going crazy...) was telling me that it was time to get into shape. This wasn't something that came to me all of a sudden, I always knew that the days of partying would come to an end, and I was ready to embrace change.

Stanley Park - Summer 2005

My whole life I always considered myself as having a pretty solid natural endurance and I found the idea of testing myself against others quite interesting. I always thought that I could outrun any of my friends if it came to it. I often ran to friends houses instead of walking because it was faster than walking so why not. I would leave my house to catch the train to school at the very last possible minute because I knew that I could run the 750 meter distance in less than two and half minutes even with a bag on my back. When I was a kid, my mother had once told me that my Aunt had raced an Ironman and when she explained to me what that was, I was really impressed. I thought that someday that would be something pretty cool to do but I never actually planned to and never even thought about it that much. Until I met Laura...

Lost Lagoon - Summer 2005

I met my partner, Laura Dunkley, in the summer of 2004. We met at a friends place and partied all night until around 7am. Not only could she party as hard as anyone I knew, she was also training for her first marathon. She had just graduated from McGill University and was still a member of the McGill Triathlon Club. She trained with them to get some cross-training into her workout schedule. I was really impressed. Here was a group of people who were training regularly and racing triathlons. Very cool..! Not to mention that my girlfriend was training to run in a marathon! Crazy! The seed was planted but I didn't even know it yet. Fast-forward two years to 2006...

Victoria - July 2005
Being from the West Coast, Laura had already moved back to Vancouver 18 months before I finally joined her. We kept our relationship together during that time and visited each other every few months. Although, during that time I started to party less and less, I was still drinking a lot and I found it hard to make the necessary changes to start a life of fitness.

Moving to a new part of the world changed everything. I didn't know anyone except for Laura so I didn't go out at night anymore. I immediately started to swim lengths at Vancouver's Kits pool. It's a 137.5 meter outdoor pool designed for swimmers. When I started, I couldn't even swim one full length of the pool without stopping but it didn't take long before I started to make progress. I never had any lessons so I had to watch the other swimmers and try to imitate their technique. Within two months, I was able to swim the Ironman 3.8 km distance in 1 hour and 20 minutes without stopping or putting my foot down. That was my first test to find out wether or not I would be able to race at Ironman.

At this point, I tentatively came up with a four year plan to race at Ironman. I figured it would take me that long to get everything together. As well as having no racing or training experience, I had no money, no job and no equipment to train with. It was going to take time.

The next step was running... Between 2004 and 2006 I tried to do a bit of running but was quite unsuccessful. I was having trouble with knee pain (which turned out to be more of an ITB problem). Anything over 5km really hurt. It was always all or nothing for me so I didn't realize that it was because I was pushing myself too hard. I wasn't letting my body adapt after leading a mostly sedentary lifestyle for the previous 10-15 years (I played soccer and hockey when I was a kid). I also knew nothing about proper running form and technique. I used to think that if I took bigger steps I wouldn't need to take as many so it would end up being easier. Bigger steps means even more heel striking. No wonder I was always getting running injuries. After living in Vancouver for almost a year I ran my first race at the Victoria Times Colonist 10k. I wasn't really training much but I had been doing a few km's here and there and running 3.5 km to work once or twice a week. I managed to pull it off in 43:13 and felt pretty good. Maybe I could run after all?

Vancouver Island 2008
Along with biking to work every day, I was starting to pull things together. I still didn't have any plans to actually race at a triathlon but things were moving in that direction. That summer, in 2007, when Laura and I were visiting her family in Victoria, her brother Steve asked me if I wanted to do the swim segment of the Victoria Self-Transcendence Olympic distance triathlon. It was the day before the race and their friend who was supposed to do the swim for them in their relay team "Get Rich or Die Tri'n" was suddenly sick with a bad cold. I didn't have a wetsuit and I'd only been in the open water a couple of times but I figured, why not. The swim segment was the part that intimidated me the most, since I was new to swimming and competition. I needed to get a feel for that part of the race and this was a perfect opportunity to do so. The first few minutes of that swim were pretty scary. I kept thinking to myself that I needed to stay focused so that I wouldn't end up at the bottom of the lake. Once I shook off the feeling of panic, it wasn't too bad and I managed to finish the swim in 35 minutes. I survived!
R&B Brewery 2008

The next year was much the same as the previous year. I trained around 2-3 hours max per week and some weeks not at all. This mostly consisted of going to the gym and lifting some weights and swimming in the 50m pool. I still ran to work once in a while or did the odd 45-60 minute run. Biking consisted of riding hard for 10 minutes each way from work (and sprinting up the short hill on the way back). I still had no definite plans to start racing triathlon in 2008. Until... I received an email in the the spring from the Victoria Triathlon race organizers asking me if I wanted to sign up for the 2008 race. I didn't have any gear yet except for running shoes and goggles so I had to make a big decision. I went for it. I spent $3000 at Pacific Multisport getting everything I needed from bike and wetsuit to tri suit and bike kit. I needed it all. It was the best investment I've ever made.

Victoria Triathlon 2008

I signed up for three Olympic distance races in 7 weeks that year (Squamish - Victoria - Vancouver) and finished them all with an average time of under 2h 40min. Not bad considering that I only trained for around 3 weeks before the first one and actually didn't train at all in between them. Carbo loading consisted of drinking 5 to 7 pints at R&B brewery on Friday night and usually a couple more on the Saturday before the race (I still liked to have a little bit of fun and wasn't taking it too seriously :)). I had only 3 weeks in between the first two races and two of those weeks were spent recovering from the first one. I could barely walk the first week after that race and actually had to use a walking stick because my knee hurt so much. I was pretty sure that I would have to drop out of the second race but a few days before, my body started to feel  really good again so I went for it. I finished the Victoria Triathlon in 2h 36min and actually felt great after the race. I didn't have any lingering knee pains. Three days later, I sprained my ankle while drinking beers at the R&B brewery. Only three and a half weeks until the Vancouver Triathlon... That race was a lesson in pain but I stuck to it and finished in 2h 42min. After that, I decided that I needed to actually train for the next race season. Starting in January... it was the off season after all and I needed to let my foot heal.

Next post: Training? That means 3 or 4 workouts a week right?

First Triathlon - Squamish 2008

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