Monday, 24 January 2011

Impossible is Nothing

A few years ago, on what I recall as a very hot day, me and something like 60,000 others were pounding the route between Sydney CBD and Bondi Beach on the annual City to Surf fun run.

This was my first time doing the run, and there were may things that I recall:

I recall we got up late and missed breakfast so started the run on nothing but Crispy Creme donuts bought the night before, I remember the standing around at the start and the huge rows of port-a-loos, I recall my frustration as it took 16 minutes to 'run' the first kilometer, most of which was spent waiting to get across the starting line, I remember the drum like beating of thousands and thousands of feet marching in step, I remember the bands and the crowds, and I remember the zig zag path I was forced to run to pass all the slower runners who had forced their way to the start of the pack.

But most of all I remember three words dangling from a helicopter in front of me and how they defined that race for me.  I'd crested the top of heartbreak hill, my legs were feeling like jelly, my lungs were struggling, my feet were tender and my pace slowing.  I remember that I was so close to dropping back to a walk, just for a minute, just for one second, at least that's what I told myself.  I so wanted to keep going, but every fibre in my body screamed stop, stop, stop.  It was somewhere in this internal struggle that I looked up into the sky and saw those three words in big white text on a black background: "Impossible is Nothing".

I didn't know it at the time, but the full quote is one of the most inspiring quotes I've read:

"Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It's a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."

Those three words said it all, they sounded right, and so I didn't stop.  

I fixated on those three words, and I chanted over and over to myself Impossible is Nothing, Impossible is Nothing, Impossible is nothing.  I sped up, I looked at the people in front of me, and one by one, I ran past them, Impossible is Nothing, Impossible is Nothing, Impossible is Nothing.  I came around a corner and could see Bondi below me, so I ran faster "Impossible is nothing", down the hill, and into the long flat section parallel to the beach.  Impossible is Nothing.  My lungs hurt, my legs hurt, but all I could think of were those three words "Impossible is Nothing".  I can't explain it now years later, but in that moment I just believed it, I came around the last corner, my lungs bursting, my legs felt like they had nothing in them, but I accelerated from a run to a sprint, those last few hundred metres seemed like an eternity, but with every step I just repeated my mantra, faster, and faster and faster ... IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING.

I crossed the line after thousands of others, and no one but me will ever know the pain I suffered afterwards for those efforts, but those three words changed my life because they showed me something I didn't before know:  Yes, I still had physical limits, but more importantly within these limits I had mental limits, limits that stopped me before I reached my true boundaries.  

Because on that one occasion, inspired by an Adidas advert, I had pushed myself past my preceived limits, beyond what I'd thought possible, now every time I'm in an event and I think "that's it, I'm done" I don't believe it, unless I'm physically collapsing, and that has happened, I now always believe I can go on, I  believe in that moment that impossible is temporary, impossible is in fact nothing, and that that person in front or behind me is suffering as much as me, and the thing that will separate us in the end is the belief on what is and isn't possible.

That's why, after almost collapsing at my latest sprint triathlon, I've decided that I'm going to do a half iron-man this year.  It's my way of proving that impossible is indeed ... nothing.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Where's my limit?

Right until the moment when the starting horn blew I was thinking of ways of getting out of this one.  The butterflies were doing speed laps in my stomach and I felt well out of my league and on the slippery path to embarrassment: I desperately wanted to find a way out that didn't involve me being remembered as the guy who finished after they had packed up and left for the day.

You see, thirty people had turned up for today's Tre-X event organised by Triathlon South.  17 of these people set off at 9am on the super sprint course (300m swim, 9km MTB ride, 3km run) leaving just 13 people, including me, doing the sprint course (750m swim, 13.5km MTB ride, 5km run).

Problem was that there were a dozen athletes ... and then there was, well, me who probably should have set off with the first wave of 17 super sprinters.

I was doing slightly better this time than my last twilight triathlon as having lost another couple of kilograms I'd managed to squeeze into my new Orca Kaiser wet suit purchased from wiggle for the princely sum of $A155 and I had remembered to bring the compulsory swimming cap, but this was just a thin veneer over the fact that the other dozen competitors all looked fit, lean and well, they looked like triathletes.  Then the horn blew and I knew there was no backing out.  I took a couple of deep breathes and set off after the field for the swim.

I dived into the water and one side of my goggles promptly  filled with water and I had to stop and reseal them.  This then repeated itself 3 or 4 times over the first 50 metres as I just couldn't get a seal over my right eye.  Because of this (at least this is my line) by the time I got to the first buoy, I was way behind the pack with two others who were also struggling a bit.

My worst fears were coming true, but with nothing else to do but swim, I put my head down and swam.  I practiced what I'd seen in the youtube videos about swimming 6 strokes and then doing a "location" stroke where I looked forward and checked that I was still on line to the next buoy.  In the flat, uncrowded water this worked really well. So I swam and checked and swam and checked.  As I rounded each buoy (it was two laps of a triangular course) I was pleased to see a couple of people just in front of me and my first two buddies just behind me, though the gap to those in front seemed to grow a little bigger as I rounded each buoy.

After what seemed like forever, but was actually about 20 minutes, I emerged from the water and chugged up the beach to the transition.  Being a newbie, and having had awful troubles getting my new wet-suit off at home, I was immensely happy with myself when it practically fell off due to the use of some of that glide off stuff which I'd put around my wrists and ankles, a quick shoe change and I set off on my bike for my strongest (least weak?) leg.

I quickly realised that my idea of wearing my T shirt inside my wet-suit hadn't been quite as brilliant as I originally thought it would be as it was now soaked (with nice chaffing salty water) and I had to wring it out with one hand.

I came up to the first little hill with one girl in front, and someone just behind me.  I stood up on the pedals determined to put in an effort and try and get ahead, I changed down a gear and was promptly dropped back down into my sear as the gears I'd just spent $125 getting fixed jumped and all my forward momentum disappeared.

The other two cyclists disappeared off into the distance as I tried to get my bike into a gear that would work, but it quickly became apparent to me that my gears were stuffed.  I couldn't any pressure on the pedals at all or the gears just jumped and I was livid with my bike shop as I spun my way around the course in baby gears.

As usual, the transition to bike was pretty hard, and I felt nauseas and light headed as I pedaled up the  grassy off road section for the first time and with my gears not working I got awful close to just chucking it all in.  However, I'd been here before, so I pulled back a bit on the effort, and by the time I set off on my second lap I had settled into a tempo I could sustain and started to enjoy myself a bit more.  I was still livid with my bike mechanic every time I came to a hill though.

As I rode into transition for the last time, I had managed to overtake two others who were now just behind me, and I figured we were the back of the pack.  I knew what would happen next: I was about to be the last runner on the course, but my worse fears weren't coming true, at least I was in the pack, even if I was at the back.

I set off on the first running lap, with the simple goals of getting around without injuring myself, not getting left too far behind the others and leaving enough in the tank for tomorrow's Amy Gillett 100km Ride.

The girl I had been dueling with on the bike quickly took off into the distance and in the end finished about 500 metres in front of me, and I don't know what happened to the young guy, but I just set into my own pace around a challenging circuit and ran (well jogged).

The first 500m were a slight but steady incline along a cliff top track, followed by a quick drop down some steps onto the beach where, due to a high tide, the return run was through fairly soft sand high on the beach.

I did the first lap in 6 mins 26 secs, and felt pretty good.   Lap 2 was done in 6'14" and just to show you how the head games work, I was absolutely convinced there was no way I could do three more laps.  My pace on lap 3 dropped back to 6'26" and I just kept telling myself that I was now more than half way, and only had two more laps to go.  Lap 4 was a survival lap at 6'29", but I was also lifted as I came towards the end of the lap and found Simon Thiessen just in front of me.  I caught him just as we ran up the boat ramp, only to have him surge ahead along the top of the cliff.  I caught him again at the stairs where I realised he was injured and hobbling which somewhat tempered my joy at catching someone (as did my subsequent discovery that he'd broken a pedal on the ride section).

I finished the final run lap in 6'26" and the entire race in 1hr 32mins 05 seconds.  I had felt right at the limit the whole way, in fact I'd felt on all three legs that I'd stepped beyond my limits, beyond what I'd believed was possible for me right now.  I'd reset my limits to somewhere 'beyond', and I was excited to see how much further I could push them.

As I drove home I was ready for the next challenge.  Bring on the butterflies.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A Forerunner to frustration, Breaking up with Garmin

Locating satellites ... locating
I think it's time to part ways with my Garmin Forerunner 305.

It's not a hate thing, it's not some feud going back several generations, it's a simple frustration arising from a piece of technology that has let me down too often, and in too many ways, and this time I just don't think our relationship is going to survive.

Like most relationships, my relationship with my forerunner started out well, and I was able to overlook those little imperfections such as the standing around for 3 or 4 or 10 minutes as it got a GPS lock at lunch time when I only had 40 minutes to go for a run.  Yep, it was a few weeks before those little glitches started to be more painful than endearing.

It was a few months into our relationship when the first big shock occurred.  Suddenly the heart rate transmitter stopped working, and no change of batteries, long late night discussions or other first aid that I could think to apply could resurrect its connection with the GPS unit. That part of our relationship was gone.

My boot camp instructor, who had also bought a forerunner 305 after seeing mine, had exactly the same problem with his heart rate monitor failing to transmit, so we decided that Garmin's sometimes just don't work the way we men understand,  and we gave up on the heart rate monitoring and just used it to measure distances and pace.

Then my Garmin stopped connecting to the computer, and then, well it just stopped, but mainly because I started spending more and more time away from it, as I retreated back to my old relationship with my more reliable Polar Heart Rate monitor which was always just there ready to go, and which started every time without fail after many more years of use.

But recently, after a couple of years in hiatus, I tried one last time to breathe a spark of life into the relationship,  as I wanted to get some  distances for some of the rides and runs I was doing, and I was also attracted to the idea of using its to race against on some of my time trial practice rides.

So it was that last night we set off together for for a short 30 minute sunset run to shake out the cobwebs after 12 hours of sitting behind a desk at work. I had my polar heart rate monitor on one wrist and my Garmin on the other.  As usual, my Polar faithfully started recording my heart rate and time as soon as I turned it on, but the perennial "Locating Satellites" message came up on my Garmin as I set off out my front gate.

Five minutes later it was still trying to locate those little satellites, and so decided it had better check a few basics with me: Firstly it popped up with a message asking me if I was sure I'm outside (Yea, pretty sure), had I moved more than 100 miles from my last location? Uhmmm, no. Was it really January 17, 2011? Yep ... but because I was running and reading and operating a watch at the same time, which is well a tad tricky, I accidentally selected "No" and happy in the knowledge that it was me, not it that had stuffed things up (after all I'm sure it knew it would find satellites if they were there and I had let it know the right day), My little Forerunner promptly stopped looking for satellites and just sat there staring at me like I was stupid.  It really was like having an argument towards the end of a long term relationship.

At this point I just felt like screaming that the little satellites are up there in the clear sky above me, and had been for the last five minutes.  Instead, I turned it off and back on again, and let it start again, but another five minutes later it again started nagging me about whether I was outside (yes), had I gone more than 100 miles from my last use (no, I've told you - about 5km) and whether it really was January 17 (YES!!!). Having gone through this repetitive process, and perhaps assured that it was all good, my little garmin when back into itself and went back to locating those little satellites.

34 minutes and one second after I started, I finished my little loop and stopped my Polar Heart Rate monitor.  I know this because it told me so.

I had to pause for a few moments before I turned off my Garmin ... I kind of felt guilty as over 34 minutes into my run, the faithful little thing was still searching for those satellites.  Then I remembered that it was supposed to be helping me, not me looking after it.  This was a relationship, not me carting it around on my wrist for others to see, so I took it off my wrist, sat it down and told it, well, I told it that it was over.

-------------- Epilogue - The Next Day.

Relationship breakups are seldom as clean or easy as you'd like.

The next morning, ever the optimist, I dragged the Garmin back out of the corner and put it out on the garden table and set it to finding satellites whilst I got ready to jog to work. 

It took me about 20 minutes or so to get ready, and then as I walked out the door and picked it up ... the poor little dear must have realised it was near the end of days as not only did it work all the way to work and back home again (OK, I did have to stand around for about 5 minutes waiting for it to get a new lock at work), after a reinstall of the software on my computer, for the first time in about three years it actually synched with the software and downloaded.

But (and I'll type this quietly so it doesn't hear) I don't think it's enough.  We're now in a marriage, this Garmin and I, we're no longer starry eyed lovers, and I can't overlook all of it's foibles in the hope that it is still the one for me, because it's a frustration, it slows me down and it's a down right pain most of the time.

So consider this the obituary of my relationship with my Forerunner, and on its grave I'll write "Forerunner 2007 - 2011, Bought in hope, departed in frustration".  Good bye.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Bring on the rain

Last night I set off with a smaller than usual crowd of paddlers from the sea kayaking club for the regular Wednesday night paddle.

The clouds hung low about the hills, and rain came down in large, widely spaced drops to break the surface of the otherwise undisturbed water.

It felt quiet.  I could hear each paddle stroke tear through the water as I rounded the first headland and peered out the towards the mouth of the river Derwent into a grey merging of the sky and the river.

I felt like I was alone in a crowded world.  I felt like the rest of Hobart was cowered inside their houses scared to come out and play in this wonderland of water and warmth.  I felt alive.

It rained pretty much on and off all night and, timing my bolt to work terribly, just after I set off  to work this morning, the heavens opened and within moments I was drenched.

As I rode down from near the top of Mt Nelson, water penetrated by clothes and shoes from above and below.  My tyres threw so much water in my face I was almost blinded, and the fear of sliding off as I went through puddles was ever present.

A car went past, just missing drenching me as it went through a blocked drain too rushed to slow down, but all I could do was smile and sing.  Yep, I bounced and bopped around on my bike as happy as I could be.  It was raining, I was drenched, and god darn it, it felt great.

Bring on the summer rain.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Twilight Triathlon, 2 years on

I glanced down at my wrist and noticed that my heartrate was 94 beats per minute.  Normally, I'd be very happy with that in a race, but the problem was I was only walking down the beach to the start line. 

I was surrounded by probably 30 or 40 other racers, all of whom looked lean and fit and were wearing profressional racing wetsuits, whilst I clomped down in my old arms-off kayaking wetsuit feeling rather out of place.  Heck, many of these guys had just done a 750m or 1500m swim "warm up" whilst I was nervous about the 300m swim we had ahead of us.

It was therefore almost a relief when the starters gun went and all I had to think about was the race.  Due to pretty rough seas it was a hard 300metres, and because of this I found myself in a big mid-race pack in the water, and there was a bit of bumping and chopping going on as swimmers lost bearings and swam into each other in the waves.  One person who had been swimming on my left for about 30 metres suddenly cut off at right angles and just swam straight in front of me and everyone else which just goes to show how easy it was to get mixed up out there.

Memories from two seasons ago (the last time I raced) came back to me as I tried to pull myself up out of the water and get my body working to jog up the beach and into transition.  If you've never done a triathlon, even just a super sprint like this one, it comes as a real shock just how hard it is to get legs moving again, and don't even begin to talk to me about getting out of a wetsuit, and putting on a helmet and shoes, especially the shoes.  I personally think they should class the two transitions as legs as I can spend almost as long in transitions between legs as I do out doing the swimming, cycling and running.

I was confident as I motored out on the bike at the back of a pack of 4 or 5 people because cycling was my strongest leg, or at least I soon found it was my strongest leg.  Whilst I overtook one guy in front of me, and caught a second, the other three rode away from me, and half way through the second lap the guy I passed came back past me, as did several other of the stronger riders as they lapped me or made up for poor swimming times.  My grand plans of building up a buffer in the cycling leg crumbled around me, and somewhat guiltily I thanked god, and whoever else would listen but not tell, that there were at least two people on mountain bikes who I could get ahead of.

The 12km's flew by, and with butterflies in my stomach and all sorts of imagined pains and problems in my legs I racked the bike, changed shoes ... insert 10 minute break here ... and nervously headed out back down to the beach for the my first run in nearly 12 months.  This was it.

The first lap was pretty much me gasping for air.  My heart rate had locked into 160bpm, which is my lactic threshold, and that was it: I just did my best to hold on and not stop.  It was a blessed relief to finish the first kilometre and set out on the second lap, only two more to go.  The legs didn't feel good, heck they felt like I had diving weights tied to each of them and that I was running on ... well soft sand, but nor were they killing me as they had in 2009.  There was no vice-like lock up in my calves, my feet didn't start feeling like they were detached from my body and outside my control.  I kept running.  I noticed the girl I had been talking to before the race who was training for the Cairns half-iron man in June behind me (or was she in front of me?) and this gave me some hope I wasn't doing too badly, but there was a lot of empty sand between me and the next person in front of me, and I knew that gap was getting bigger, not smaller.  I wouldn't be chasing anyone down today.

I rounded the turning point for a second time, only one lap to go.  I actually started to lift my pace, then realsied what I was doing and dropped it again as I felt the acid bite of the lactic juices building up in both my sides.  I was at my limit.  I noticed that the girl was now probably 150 metres behind me, and I became determined to hold on.  At the 2.5km turning mark she was still about the same distance, but then half way down the last lap as I passed John Dalco going in the other direction he yelled out some words of encouragement which suddenly had me worried that today I was the one being chased down.  I surged without even thinking about it, and looked behind me, I looked twice and was very relieved to see a nice healthy gap.

It wasn't much, but it was great to have a few spectators at the final 3km mark to clap a little and say a few encouraging words as I headed up off the beach, through the dunes and finally over the finish line.

I'd done the race in 54 mins 19 seconds, which I was pretty darn happy about, not because of the time, but because I had entered, I had competed and I had run.  Most importantly I was happy because I had run for 3kms and I hadn't broken down.  It's a small step, but I'm liking 2011 already.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A Dismal Disappointment

A motto for 2011?
Ah, the smell of a new year.

I packed up and headed out of the Arthur River campsite after a quick cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal intent on kicking 2011 off on the 13kms of dedicated single track that had been built at Dismal Swamp, aka Tarkine Adventures.

The day started on a bit of a sour note as a few kilometres from the campsite I drove past a dead Tasmanian Devil on the side of the road.  I did a U turn and went back, took a few pics, checked it for Facial Tumour Disease and then threw it off the road out of sight of other motorists.

The only good news was that the poor thing was clean of any visual signs of the disease.  I would have hated to start the new year discovering a diseased devil in the last healthy refuge in the State.

Not much further down the road, I passed Charles Seaman who must have just set off on the first day of his 1000kms4kids charity challenge.  He was jogging along the road towards Smithton, and I waved and cheered him on from outside the very closed gates at Tarkine Adventures, which doesn't open until 9am.

I confess I had hoped that only the buildings and slide would be closed, and that I might have been able to sneak onto the MTB trails early, but no such luck as the gates were well and truly shut with no way past.

I wasn't too phased, and just went off for a bit of a drive, caught up on my previous days blogs, and before I knew it 9am rolled around and I found myself unpacked and ready to head out into the trails.  It was just delicious knowing I'd be the first one to head around them for 2011.

The Edge ... virgin trails await the first man who enters here ...

I should mention that this trail is one of the few I know of in Tasmania which has been built as a dedicated IMBA standard mountain bike trail, and it is a well thought out design with three linked loops, each one getting a bit more difficult given us cyclists the option of how much we really want to scare / challenge / hurt ourselves.

I opted for maximum on all accounts.  It just seemed like the only way to start off the year on the right foot.  I also loved the idea that after ending 2010 at the edge of the world, I start 2011 riding the Edge MTB trails.

The first section on the green loop was as it should be: easy, fast riding through pretty forest and it seemed like no time at all that I came to the diversion onto the blue (intermediate) section of track.

Green Track: Easy riding on a groomed trail

Nice forest.
On entering the blue section there was an immediate step up in difficulty, though well within even my meager skills.  I'd describe this section as simply narrower and more fun with a few more twists and turns thrown in for good measure.  The green was a cruise, the blue is where it got really fun.
Pretty typical Blue Track Sections

So don't make me think about it then!!!!

Then the world went black.  Well the track did anyway.  It's a big step up from the blue trail to the 'Deviant Devil' black trail, and they try and scare you off in the first few hundred metres (after which there is a chicken out point) as the trail twists and turns ruthlessly.

The trail beyond here is a challenge, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I was able to get around, though I'm the first to admit that it wasn't a graceful experience, and there was plenty of sections that were beyond me.

That said, the scenery and forest were worth the sections that I had to push through, and it was so close to being a perfect ride.

But that's the problem ... it just wasn't, instead it was disappointing, not because of the forest, not because of the well built trails, but simply and solely because in typical Tasmanian fashion they've let the trails go to pieces.

All up I spent nearly two and a half hours cycling around the 3 circuits, and I spent about an hour and a half of that clearing thistles, dodging cutting grass and clearing or climbing over fallen trees and branches, many of which had obviously been down for quite some time given the tracks built around them.

I can handle, even enjoy, those sort of things  on my normal rides, but this was supposed to be groomed trail, not a days adventure through rough bush tracks.  I was disappointed to my very core.  Why don't we get it here in Tasmania????  You can't be the tourist state and offer crap services.  Yet again,  we've taken a great idea and stuffed it up.  Sigh.

Notice the great little technical ramp, ruined by a branch over the top.

It was almost a relief to get back onto the blue circuit and then green circuit, the latter of which seemed to have been maintained quite well.

After the ride, I got changed and went and forked over my $20 to head down the slide into Dismal Swamp, and I have to say that the slide was suitably fun and fast, though I did feel a tad nauseous when I got to the bottom.  Problem was that at the bottom I just got ... well confused.  It was like someone had this idea for a tourist attraction, but didn't really know how to implement it, and so I wandered around looking at artists ideas of representing the site which included giant doors, plastic lobsters, metal painted cows and steel chairs and well it was ridiculous.  I felt like I was walking through a grade one arts display.

In fact I was so disappointed by it all that I was out of there about 10 minutes after exiting the slide, and on my way back to Hobart not long after that.

Don't get me wrong, in many ways this was a great way to start the year.  I explored great trails, I'd gone somewhere new, I'd explored the edge.  I'd started 2011 of on the right pedal.

Bring on the rest of the year.

Click here to view the GPS route (requires Google Earth)