Triathlon Training


Sue Damiano – Striving, Surviving, Succeeding! Ironman Muskoka 70.3

Posted by | Runner Profiles, Training, Triathlon Training | One Comment

Let me introduce you to Sue Damiano, a new Ironman Muskoka 70.3 Finisher!  Sue went from being a non-swimmer in 2012 to finishing a Half Ironman in 2016!  Sue dreams big and loves a challenge.

I first met Sue through our children – we both have kids on local swim teams and we met as we cheered for our children at their practices and swim meets.  Sue is the greatest spectator at swim meets – I ask her to cheer for my son Caleb at meets because everyone can hear her (and nobody can hear me!).  First and foremost, Sue is a mother and an advocate for her kids.  Her kids are her primary focus, yet Sue found the time, energy and motivation to strive for her own dream this year of accomplishing a Half Ironman – a dream that used to seem impossible to her.

I am privileged to have Sue as a friend and to have been a part of her Muskoka Half Ironman journey.  We both raced Muskoka this year (this was my second time doing the race) and Sue tells me that I was a big part in her having the confidence to sign up for the race in the first place – I am thrilled to know that I helped her believe in herself!  I was able to witness Sue accomplish this new feat and see her joy at succeeding at her dream race.

HISTORY – the Lead up to the Half Ironman

JM:  What is your background in athletics?

Sue:  I was a runner in elementary school and did a bit of cross-country running and track in High School (Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School). I always loved running, but had never learned how to swim.

Sue was in fact afraid of the water and it was only once her two children started swimming for the Brock Swim Team that she became intrigued by the idea of swimming.  Sue started thinking to herself, “Imagine if I could do that?!”  Sue decided to hire her children’s swim coach for a few private lessons in her parents’ backyard pool.  Sue laughs as she remembers her learn to swim lessons in 2012; “I will never forget the look on their faces,” (her children, Mackenzie and Brenden), “when I put on googles and a swim cap for the first time!  They were stunned!”  Sue describes how her first lessons started with simply putting her face under water and learning how to breathe.  Soon Sue progressed to Adult Swim lessons at Brock U. and then she eventually joined the Masters Swim program at the Kiwanis pool once she was able to swim and worked on building up her endurance.

Sue completed her first triathlon in August 2014 – the Irongirl race in Grimsby (shorter than a sprint triathlon).  Sue chose this race because it felt less stressful, with no pros completing and no men in the race.  She did this race again in 2015, along with a second Try-a-Tri in Grimsby.

JM: After three short triathlons, why did you decide to do the Half Ironman?

Sue:  It was my dream race!  And you told me to just do it!  I remember talking with you (Janine) at the Kiwanis Pool in the change room when you were signing up for a full ironman in 2015 at Cedar Point and you asked me to do the half ironman there in Ohio.  I wasn’t ready then (2015) but that dream stuck in the back of my mind.  Then this year you were talking about Muskoka and I decided to just do it now!  Yeah, just go for it!

Sue and I signed up for the Muskoka 70.3 in January 2016.  Now there was no turning back…

Sue’s husband, Vince was dumbfounded when he heard the bike distance of the Half Ironman – he kept repeating “90k!  How and where are you going to bike 90k?!”

 JM:  How did you train for the Half Ironman?

Sue trained with the local Masters swim club a couple times per week, did long rides with a cycling club and then did a second ride on her own.  She ran mostly on her own.  In the good weather as her runs got longer Sue’s kids biked along with her on her long runs, along the trails. Sue did hill rides up and down the escarpment.  Sue is quick to add, “next time (I guess another race is already brewing!), I would work on more leg strength; more hills and more speed-work.”

JM:  Did you have doubts that you could finish the race?

Sue:  YES! Not during the race, but the months before the race.

Sue was nervous and didn’t have a lot of confidence in herself at first.  Some unexpected health challenges suddenly arose in the winter and spring with Sue’s son Brenden, and this only added to her doubts.  Brenden has type I diabetes and is entering his teen years, with all the growth and active lifestyle his insulin levels have become more sporadic.  Brenden passed out on two separate occasions, both which ended up with hospitalizations.  At that point, with her son in the hospital, Sue felt like she was going to have to quit on her goal.  Sue describes how she later heard her kids talking about how excited they were to go to Muskoka for the first time and then Sue realized that if she dropped her goal, she would be teaching her kids that it is okay to quit.  Sue did not quit and she gained strength from her triathlete friends, who went on hill rides with her to build up her confidence, and swam with her in the Welland canal to gain experience with open water swimming.  Sue describes how Geron (who I interviewed in another article) told her to “just face your fears!”  Her friends helped her to believe in herself and to keep on going. Sue prayed lots and got through the challenges with Brenden as well.


Sue and Vince enjoyed several days in Muskoka with Mackenzie and Brenden, making the Muskoka Ironman a whole family event.

July 10th at 7:00am Sue and all the triathletes lined up for the swim.  The swim started in waves, with Sue in the Women 45-50 wave, wearing Green Caps.  Sue describes how once she was in the water she started thinking, “Let’s just have some fun!”  Suddenly she was focused and calm and the doubts disappeared.  Sue just thought about how amazing it was that everyone (her family and so many of her friends) were there watching her and participating in the race.  She was proud of herself for overcoming her fear of deep water. Sue did amazing with such a congested start. She survived kicks to the face and just kept swimming. Sue finished her swim in 48:34, feeling great and giving spectators high fives as she ran to the transition zone to get her bike.

JM:  What was a highlight of the race?

Sue:  The bike was incredible.  Muskoka is so beautiful!  I loved the distance – being out there for along time. I felt euphoric as I biked past the lake and little beach areas and beautiful wooded areas.  I also felt strong on the run, having held back a bit on the bike section, saving my legs for the run. I felt good throughout the race.

JM:  What was a low-light of the race?

Sue:  (Without hesitation) The 85 km mark on the bike!  The hill was so steep and hard and I was going up the hill at a pace of 1km /hour.  I hit a wall of pain! There was only 9 km left to go, so I just kept going.  At that point I was telling myself I should have done more Effingham hills!  The beast caught up with me on that last hill.

Sue finished the 94 km bike (she made it up that beast of a hill!) in 4:02 and she was off on her run! Sue did not stop!

JM:  How did you feel for the run?

Sue:  I felt strong on the run.  I had hoped to do 2 hours, but needed to take a few washroom breaks.

Running a half marathon after swimming and cycling is a whole new experience.  Sue has run half marathons under 2 hours no problem, but in the heat of the day after having exercised for 5 hours, just keeping on running is a huge feat.  Sue did keep running, and she completed the 21.1 km run in 2:16:54.

Sue is now a 70.3 Ironman Finisher!  She crossed the finish line to her cheering family in a time of 7:22:01.  Most people have not exercised for over 7 hours.  Sue did what she had once thought impossible.

REFLECTIONS on the Half Ironman Experience

JM:  Now that the Half Ironman is over, what has this experience added to your life?

Sue: A huge sense of accomplishment!  Inspiration for my family to not quit and to stay active.

JM:  Would you recommend triathlon training to others?

Sue: Yes! It is amazing; it makes me so happy and it is a great way to stay in shape.  I have met so many nice people in this sport.

JM:  Will  you do more triathlons?  What is your next race or goal?

Sue definitely plans to do more triathlons.  She is considering doing her first full marathon this fall.  Next summer maybe she will do another half ironman and try to go faster or she may do an Olympic Distance triathlon, which is shorter and she can focus on speed.

Sue always celebrates with others in their successes.  I am so thrilled that we can all celebrate with her as she achieved this great accomplishment of completing her first Half Ironman!  I know this is just the beginning of many other great adventures and challenges for Sue.



Mountain Biking: Road Cyclists take to the Trails…

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….And hilarity ensues!  Nothing like some falls in the mud to keep oneself humble.  I consider myself a competent cyclist, but sadly this does not translate into mountain biking.  The experience of riding in Short Hills with my triathlon training partner Nate (Karen Natho) was fraught with challenge, fear, excitement and loads of mud, but we eventually accomplished trails 1 and 2….

WHY?  I think it is excellent to keep challenging oneself throughout life.  When I turned 40 I tried triathlons for the first time ever and promised myself that rather than resigning to old age and the gradual loss of abilities and fitness, I would try something new every year.  At 40 I did my first triathlons and a half ironman.  At 41 I did my first Ironman.  Now at almost 42, I am preparing for my first adventure race with my trusty training partner and our 14 year old sons.  The Storm the Trent Trek Race will consist of 42 km of mountain biking, 9 km of trail running and 9km of canoe paddling.  This big event is now less than a month away – May 14th.

Mountain Biking the good, the bad and the ugly…

  1. There is a definite thrill component to mountain biking that does not exist in road cycling.  Shaking and bouncing down steep, uneven terrain and wondering if I will remain on the bike is a scary experience for me.  I am braking more than I should on most descents, but at least I am remaining on my bike most of the time.  There is the constant fear of, “will I make it over that log?”, or ” Will I get through this patch of mud?” I am sweating from fear almost as much as from exertion!
  2. There is a huge technical component to mountain biking:  maneuvering over logs, rocks, streams and sloughing through mud is extremely treacherous.  It requires specific strategies to remain on the bike, rather than experiencing the natural elements up close and personal.  Nate and I did our share of walking, but I am pleased to say, we did considerably less dismounting and more plowing through the mud and elements as the kilometers rolled along.  By the end of our ride, we were managing to get through many challenging sections, while staying on our bikes!
  3. The Pacing of a mountain bike ride is much slower than riding (and Running?!) on the roads.  The fluctuating, hilly terrain means one is covering far less ground than on the roads – at least for us, that is!  I cannot speak for a true mountain biker, but I was shocked at how few kilometers we had covered after what felt like hours!  Our entire ride did not take hours—it was more like 80 minutes—but the exertion felt comparable to hours on the road and we had covered far less ground.  The humility element strikes again:  our average pace was slower mountain biking (5:35 per km) than for our RUN the morning before (4:40 per km)!  Not quite sure how that is possible.  I blame it on all the muddy puddles.
  4. Mountain biking is great for building strength and agility.  Hills are so steep on the trails – inclines can be much steeper on the trails than on the roads and there are more frequent fluctuations in elevation and speed along a mountain bike route.  We rode up very steep sections that we never experience with our road bikes.  Great cross-training for our primary sports.
  5. Mountain biking forces you to take yourself and life less seriously!  You have to roll with the hills, flow with the mud, embrace some dirt and tears… life is not serious on the trails.  Mud in the face, grit in the teeth – it forces you to laugh and let loose and let go of any pretense of looking good and all put together!  A thorn bush ripped my tights and Nate fell into the woods as she tried to make it through a muddy patch.  Thankfully we laughed and enjoyed it all and nobody got hurt.
Four weeks till our big Adventure Race.  How are you enjoying the lovely spring weather?  What events do you have planned for this season?  I would love to hear of all your pursuits, so add comments below!

Tomorrow we are off to Martinedale Pond to practice our paddling…


When You Can’t Run, Keep Moving Forward…

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I am a runner who is not running.  I am staying positive, but truth be told, it isn’t easy for me. When asked (frequently) what marathon I am training for,  I react with pain in my gut and try to figure out how to explain my situation.  I can’t run, but I am still moving forward.

Maybe this is good for me.  I have had twenty years of relatively injury free training.  There were three pregnancies and minor issues after each (plantar fasciitis and some hip issues), but I enjoyed years of great running.  Now is a time to expand my horizons and also to help me understand just how blessed I have been.  So, here is a summary of the injury as I understand right now.  I have degeneration in my lumbar spine between L5 and S1 – the Lumbosacral joint.  This was discovered with x-rays.  There is likely bulging at the disc there, but difficult to determine without an MRI.  Since May I have had issues with my left hamstring and glutes.  This is likely all due to the spine and the nerves being compressed.  My gait is off due to poor nerve function and then muscles are getting strained.  Currently I have chronic low back pain; it isn’t severe, but enough that it would be foolish to run and ignore it.

Good news, I am a triathlete as well as a runner!  I have alternative sports to keep me going.  I also have an excellent chiropractor, Geron Cowherd, who is providing so much insight and advice on how to deal with this injury (next article will be about Chiropractic Care and ART).  Lower back injuries are very common, especially among marathon runners due to the repetitive impact and stress of bounding as we run long distances.  A combination of genetics (low back issues run in my family), 20 years of running and pushing myself too hard in some complementary exercises (see below) are the underlying reasons for my current predicament.  I have a plan and I am confident that it will keep me moving forward.  I hope these suggestions can encourage others suffering from an unwanted injury.

How to combat injury and stay injury free:

  1. Do Strengthening Exercises:  It is essential to identify my weaknesses and do the correct type of strengthening exercises to correct my imbalances and deficiencies. I specifically need to focus on core strength to support my back.  Planks and abdominal exercises need to be my new favourite activities.  My left leg is also significantly weaker than my right (it was my left hamstring and glutes that have been flaring up all year) so I am doing specific exercises to activate my left leg.  These exercises include bunkies, bridge poses (activate glues), squats, lunges and slowly adding in more plyometric exercises as I build strength.
  2. Find a New Outlet for Athleticism:  I may not be running, but I am moving!  I am throwing myself into swimming, cycling and strength training.  Rather than approaching injury as a time to give up, see it as an opportunity to learn a new sport and get good at something new.  I am now planning on doing a 10km open water swim next summer.  This is something I have never done and it will give purpose to my swimming.  I have also joined a gym, something I have not done for years.  Spin classes and weight training will keep me energized and fit.
  3. Invest in Regular Chiropractic Care: Regular chiropractic adjustments restore spinal motion and alignment.  ART (Active Release Therapy) works the muscle tissues and ligaments to break up scar tissue and restore proper movement. Currently this is a more acute problem for me, affecting nerve functioning.  Regular adjustments can help prevent imbalances from getting severe and keep nerves functioning properly.  It often takes an injury to see the value in treatment.

    Chiropractic Care

  4. Focus on Deloading and Elongating of the Spine: The issues I am having are due to compression in the spine.  To reverse this I am hanging upside down in an inversion machine at the gym and doing headstands at home.  I haven’t yet resorted to hanging upside from the monkey bars at the playground! The inversion therapy is a great idea after a long run or ride.  When running, using the 10 and 1 approach (run 10 minutes and walk 1 minute) is a great way to give the body a break from the bounding throughout a long run.  It is effective in deloading the spine every 10 minutes and allowing for a long run.  I will use this technique when starting to run again.
  5. Approach Complementary Exercises with Caution:  Yoga, cross-fit, strength training, Pilates…are all excellent activities, but in my case they are secondary to my focus on triathlon and running.  When approaching these complementary activities I must remember to approach them with caution.  As an athlete it is easy to think I need to always push myself.  It is easy to create an injury in these secondary activities that will interfere with the primary sport.  Not being as proficient in these secondary activities, it is easy to overstretch or tear a muscle.  This is definitely a contributing factor to my current injury situation.  One  yoga class I felt compelled to try the “bird of paradise” pose that was being demonstrated.  I pulled my leg up as high as it would go….not a good idea for the hamstring.  Definitely caused some tearing.  Another day last spring I was in a fitness class and did Box Squats and I jumped as high and squated as deep as i could possibly go.  Again, contributing to tearing in the hamstring and glutes.  More is not always better.
  6. Focus on Nutrition: Proper nutrition is needed to repair and build muscle tissue.  I needed to add more protein to my diet.  I also need to supplement with essential fatty acids:  linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid). These oils are found in fish, flax seed pumpkin seeds sunflower seeds and soya oil .  I do not consume enough seafood, so  in my case a supplement is the easiest way to ensure I am getting what I need.  Essential oils help to decrease inflammation in the body; this is essential for every athlete and especially necessary for me at this time when I am fighting inflammation in my spine. 

It is incredibly encouraging to talk to many of my friends who have experienced injuries in the past and are back to doing the sports they love.  I will never take for granted the ability to swim, bike and run.

Getting ready to swim

20 Things you can Learn by Doing an Ironman

Posted by | Events, Training, Triathlon Training, Why I Run | No Comments

Now that the IRONMAN is completed, I can fill you in on many new and valuable insights:

Things you can learn doing an Ironman:

  1. Many people think I am talking about a Superhero, when I refer to the Ironman.
  2. Doing an Ironman brings about a feeling of Euphoria for days!
  3. A pedicure is not a luxury but an necessity after completing an Ironman.
  4. Doing an Ironman is like childbirth – You think you will never want to do it again, and as soon as it is over you are ready to sign up for more!
  5. You have to keep on going…
  6. Doing an Ironman requires the support of friends, family, training partners, bike mechanics and health care professions.  Many people are needed to accomplish this feat.
  7. It is worth persevering.
  8. Impossible goals can be accomplished.
  9. Pursuing a huge goal and then completing it provides a well of strength that supports other areas of your life.
  10. You can keep on going….
  11. It is a gift to be able to swim, bike and run. If you have the ability to do these sports, do it! It is a privilege to be able to do these sports.  Ask someone who has lost any of these abilities and they will tell you to get out there and use what you have!
  12. Anything is possible.  I did not believe I could do the Ironman when I started training. It seemed impossible.
  13. You really can pee on a bike if you have to (the other one is not recommended).
  14. Putting compression socks on after swimming is a bad idea.  Purchase the calf sleeves!
  15. It is an incredible joy to exercise for an entire day.
  16. If you can adjust your schedule to train for an Ironman, you can adjust your schedule to suit any priority, if you want it badly enough. (Thank you Sheri Penner for this point)
  17. You really can keep going…
  18. Extreme perseverance is developed in training for an Ironman.
  19. You get to know your training partners very well!  Early mornings, all day training sessions…you see them at their best and their worst!
  20. Just keep going… you can do this!
  21. Completing an Ironman is something that I will treasure for my whole life. It is awesome to be an IRONWOMAN!
ironwoman feature

Here She Is, The IRONWOMAN!

Posted by | Events, Triathlon Training | 13 Comments

Let me tell you about my ironwoman wife, Janine.

If you’ve talked to her at all in the past nine months, you know that she has been training for her first full Ironman Triathlon. She’s been training a lot. Many, many early mornings, getting up at 5:00am to go swim, or bike, or run while I slept in our nice warm bed. Sometimes she’d come home from her morning workout and I hadn’t even realized that she had left.

Anyway, after a total of 443 hours of training (or 18 and a half days straight), on September 13th, at the Challenge Family Cedar Point Triathlon, she did it. She completed the IRONMAN in 11:39:27.

I was so excited for her that I wanted to write this article for her, just so I could brag for her a bit. So here’s the race-day report: this is how my beautiful wife, Janine, completed a 3.86 km swim, 180.25 km bicycle ride and 42.2 km run, all in one day, in under 12 hours.

* * *

On the Friday before the race, Janine drove down to Sandusky, Ohio, with her good friend and training partner, Karen “Nate” Natho. Nate was the one who had been waking up at 5am to train with her for many months now. In fact, it was Nate who had initially convinced Janine to sign up for the full Ironman distance; previously Janine had thought maybe she’d do a full Ironman in the future at some point, but did not really have any clear plans.

“I really wasn’t sure I’d ever do a full Ironman until I actually signed up for Cedar Point,” Janine told me. We had both heard about the Ironman race twenty years ago when we were working together at a Running Room store in Toronto. When I saw how long the race was (you have to do a FULL MARATHON after at least 8 hours of swimming and biking?!) I was slightly horrified; Janine was impressed and inspired. At that point, it was still something for super-athletes; not something she actually considered ever doing herself. In the intervening years, Janine has done 11 full marathons and more half marathons than she can count. But it took twenty years for her to get the confidence to sign up for the full Ironman.

And then she had signed up. And then done all that training. And now she was on her way.

I would be there to watch her and cheer, but we decided to travel separately so Janine could stay in a hotel with Nate while I stayed in a campsite. That way I could take care of kids and dog, and Janine would only have to take care of herself and her gear.

So Friday. The two women drive to Ohio. And the weather is terrible: it rains most of the way there. The rain is the kind that makes it scary to drive on the highway. It’s also very windy. They make it and settle into their hotel room for a good night’s sleep.

The next day (Saturday) they bring their bikes to the race course, where they are supposed to check them in. They notice that there are huge waves on Lake Erie. They learn that the Sprint distance race, which was taking place that day, has had its swim section canceled because of the roughness of the water. They are told they can’t drop off their bikes because of the wind: there is concern that bikes left in the transition area will get blown over and damaged. They were planning to do a short trial swim on the course but they aren’t allowed; they are told that their swim might in fact be cancelled.

They drive back to the hotel room.

I arrive after my harrowing drive (it’s still raining periodically). I’ve brought our dog and our son, Caleb (the other two kids opt not to come). We meet the women in their hotel room.

The hotel room is littered with triathlon gear: there are bikes and tires and clothing spread everywhere, maps are spread out on beds, helmets hang on the backs of chairs. The room is thick with all of the excitement and anticipation and nervousness that Janine and Nate feel at this point: to be here, now, after so many hundreds of hours of training and to hear that part of your race might be cancelled, the water is too rough, a boat capsized, there’s blue algae in the marina, wait no the waves broke up the algae, ok the swim isn’t cancelled just moved, yay we can swim after all.

They relay their excitement and tell me about the weather-related drama. We make arrangements of where we will watch them, then they tuck into their cozy beds and Caleb and the dog and I drive to our campsite, set up our tent in the rain, and huddle in our sleeping bags. It’s a cold night.

Race morning. It’s cold and windy.

They get up at 4:15, bring their bikes to the course, drop off their transition bags. It’s still dark. They want to be early because the swim now has a staggered start: every five seconds they will let two swimmers go, first come first served, with the first two swimmers starting at 7:00. Athletes are milling around in their wetsuits in the cold grey morning.

At 6:40 the race directors open the swim course allowing athletes to do a swim warmup in the water. The air is cold but Janine finds the water quite pleasant. She splashes around a bit, and then it’s time to line up for the start. The sun still hasn’t quite risen.

Finally, they’re off, starting on their ironman journey by swimming out of the marina. Janine isn’t quite sure where she’s going, as they haven’t been able to swim the modified course ahead of time, so she just follows the swim cap in front of her. The water in the marina is sheltered, and she’s having a great swim. Then they go through the marina entrance and swim around the lighthouse, making their way back on the other side of the breakwater. Suddenly the waves are much bigger. Janine can see the swim cap ahead on the crest of each wave, but when she’s in the dip of each wave, she can only see the water around her. The waves push her towards the rocks of the breakwater, and she scrapes her hand on the bottom a few times, but she doesn’t care. She’s excited: she’s doing it, her first ironman. She feels great. The swim course is a double loop, so she goes back into the sheltered marina, then back around the lighthouse. This time the waves are even bigger.

Afterwards, she recalls to me how she felt: “The waves were huge… but I actually found it fun! I heard a lot of people saying how hard it was, and it was hard, but for me the overwhelming emotion was how fun it was!”

So. Swim section finished. One down, two to go.

Volunteers help Janine strip off her wetsuit (they’re called “Strippers”! haha) and she has to run almost a kilometer to the transition area, because the swim had been moved. Her hands are cold, and she has a hard time getting her compression socks on. In fact, she spends ten minutes in the transition between the swim and the bike.

Finally she is ready. She jumps on her bike and starts the long ride. She has a fancy racing helmet that a training partner had given her: he had bought it on Kijiji but it didn’t fit his head. It fits her perfectly and makes her feel even faster. The course is a double loop. She and Nate had driven the course the day before, so she recognizes landmarks, thinks of the conversations she had with Nate. She’s feeling strong and fast.

She knows that Caleb and I are waiting in the city square of a small town called Milan that the course passes through. We’re waiting there with friends: Erv and Betty Krause have made the trip to Ohio just to watch Janine’s triathlon. They are new church friends that we haven’t even known for a year yet. Janine feels incredibly blessed that they have made the effort to come for their first triathlon spectating experience. She looks forward to seeing all of us.

Before coming into the town of Milan, there is a short steep hill just around the corner from where we set up our chairs. When we see the first cyclists coming though, we see them huffing and puffing, often taking a drink or eating something. Most of them are going pretty slow after the exertion of the hill. We see the lead men breeze through, then a slow trickle after the lead pack. We cheer for all of them. There’s a small gaggle of girls cheering with us, dressed in costumes as clowns and bumblebees and ballerinas. They are shouting themselves hoarse and ringing cowbells. We sit and wait.

Then I see the pink compression socks that took Janine so long to put on: here she comes! She looks fast and strong. She gives us a wide grin and a wave, even shouts at us. I’m thrilled: she’s doing well. I’ve watched her breeze by me at many races where she barely made eye contact, especially if she was in pain. But today she doesn’t look in pain. She looks like a happy pink blur.

Erv and Betty and Caleb and I twitter together about how happy she looks, and how she waved at us, and how she’s only got two women ahead of her. Then we settle in to wait for the two hours it will take her to come around again. We’re cold unless we sit right in the sun. I wonder how Janine is feeling on the bike with the wind, and if she is as cold as I am.

She is, in fact, feeling a bit cold. She hikes up the pink arm-warmers she is wearing to try to cover her shoulders. It helps a bit. As she comes around to do the loop a second time, she gives a whoop and a cheer. Three hours in: she’s half done the bike! It’s a long time to ride on your own. Triathlons have strict no-drafting rules, so you can’t ever ride close enough to anyone else to be able to talk to them. Janine prays to help pass the time: she even prays out loud sometimes. She prays through each member of our family as she pedals and dodges potholes.

“Loved the bike course,” Janine said to me afterwards. “Loved it!” We can tell. We’re thrilled when we see her’s pink socks and arm-warmers blur past us again in Milan’s town square. This time we’re really ready for her. We cheer and call her name and take pictures and video, and she breezes through and in about 10 seconds flat she is gone again. She looks lean and mean, all grit and focus.

We gather our chairs. We have about three hours until we see her on the run course.

Janine’s transition from bike to run is much better than her transition from swim to bike. Just over two and a half minutes to get her running shoes on, and away she goes.

Bike section finished. Two down, one left.

Running is usually Janine’s strong suit, but she feels nervous about this marathon. She injured her hamstring in May, and wasn’t able to get in nearly as much mileage as she would have liked. Her longest run in training was only 32km; in the other two sports she had surpassed the distance that the ironman required. For the run she had gone 10km short of the fill distance.

Never mind. She knows how to run. Just put one foot in front of the other. Off she goes.

Meanwhile Erv and Betty and Caleb and I have gone for lunch, then come back. We find a strategic point on the run course where the athletes will pass us three times, then another three times on the second loop. We’ll get to see Janine six times. Hope she’ll be glad to see our faces.

We sit and wait. The half-ironman runners are passing – their bibs are red with white numbers. We watch for the black full-ironman bibs. It’s actually getting hot in the sun.

We notice that MANY MANY athletes are walking. Caleb sees the first place female run by. Then we see her a second time, and a third time to go off and finish her first loop. Still no Janine. We see the second place female. We wait some more. I am getting thirsty. I feel like it’s a marathon sport even being a spectator at one of these events.

Finally we see Janine’s bobbing pink socks. She runs up to us, and we hoot and holler. I run with her for a few hundred meters, just to talk a bit and encourage her. Her gait is a bit off: she seems to be limping a bit. I’ve never seen her run so slow. Her face looks pained. “I’m just trying to keep going,” she says. “I’m not fast, but I’m keeping going. Just keep going.” I can almost hear the words she is repeating to herself in her head, keep going, keep going, keep going, with every footfall, keep going, keep going.

She runs off. I don’t tell her that I’m a bit concerned for her. She’s only a third through her run. Still, she’s held on to her third place position, and she’s still running.

Nate runs by with a big grin on her face. We cheer for her. “I’m so happy,” she says.

We see Janine come by again, then a third time as she heads off to finish her first loop. She hasn’t slowed. I’m feeling better for her. She runs past us and gets to the loop point where she gets a “special needs back” of items she has packed previously. She has a fruit juice and a small bag of salt and vinegar chips. The juice is like nectar on her tongue. She wonders why she didn’t get a larger bottle. She walks for a bit while she munches on the chips, because she doesn’t want to choke on them. The walking feels good.

Maybe I can just powerwalk, she thinks. Maybe I can walk almost as fast as I can run. She starts walking. She can tell pretty quickly that she can’t walk anywhere near as quickly as she can run. She doesn’t want to start running again, but she does. Keep going, keep going, keep going.

We see her pink socks bobbing back down the road. This time she looks rough. The pain is clear on her face. This time, Caleb runs with her. He tells her to take a break at the water station just past us, and to refuel properly. She does: she decides to try to drink some Coke (they offer water, gatorade and Coke(!) at the stations). The Coke seems to hit the spot: she feels invigorated.

When we see her the second time she is looking better, and actually smiles at us as we hold up our “Go Janine Go” sign. We send her off after seeing her the third time, and hop in the car to the finish line.

The finish line is right in the Cedar Point Theme Park, with roller coasters rumbling overhead. We wait. This race lets family members run across the finish line with the athlete (how cool is that?!) so Caleb and I get ready when we see Janine coming. We jump up and follow her, cheering and yelling. I can keep up with her! Caleb is pulling our little dog along with him, and the four of us cross the finish line together.

“I did it, I did it,” Janine says, over and over. She is close to collapsing in my arms, and tears are in her eyes. I guide her over to a chair and she sits down. “I did it.”

She did it.

We’re so proud. We all surround her and hug her through the tinfoil blanket she is wrapped in. She’s the third female in spite of a very difficult run. I pull her close and kiss her forehead. She tastes salty.


“Let the Happiness In!” Ironman 70.3 World Championship

Posted by | Runner Profiles, Training, Triathlon Training | One Comment

The Half Ironman 70.3 World Championship is finished! My friend, Geron Cowherd, achieved a life goal August 30th, 2015. He joined over 2800 other athletes from 60 countries around the world.  The site for the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championship was a picturesque mountain setting: Zell am See, Austria.

Geron won his qualifying spot for the World Championship last summer at the Muskoka Half Ironman September 2014, where he placed third in his age group.  I was there at Muskoka racing my first half ironman and I feel like I have been along for Geron’s journey. We celebrated together at Muskoka last year, when we both qualified (but sadly I could not go).

I am thrilled to interview Geron about his successful World Championship debut. He is a training partner, friend and excellent chiropractor. He rocked the race, overcoming many obstacles in the days leading up to it.

Race Day – August 30, 2015

Geron was strong, steady and focused.  “Let the Happiness in!” was the official race motto, and Geron embraced this attitude wholeheartedly.  He compared the race to “Christmas Morning”; after all his months and years of training, this was the celebration! Geron executed an amazing race in extremely hot conditions (32 C).  Generally Geron is used to beginning a race around 7am; however, at Worlds the pros did not begin until 10:45am and the age categories followed.  Geron’s age category (males 55;59)did not begin until 11:41am.  The delayed start meant the race occurred during the hottest part of the day. From the outside, one might never know all the hurdles Geron had to overcome prior to race day.

Geron had a solid SWIM of 33:53.  His goal was 32 min, but he says the race start was crazy, with 200 people starting at once and all very evenly matched in speed (unlike other races where athletes spread out much more quickly).  At Worlds, all the athletes are strong swimmers!   “It was a panicky start.  Probably the most panicky I’ve ever experienced.”  Geron had been trying to swim in tight close to the buoys, but had to eventually swim out further to avoid the thrashing and kicking.  Overall, he felt he had a great swim nevertheless.

The BIKE is Geron’s strength.  He felt great going into the first climb.  He knew the bike course, having ridden the full 90km 5 days prior to the race, “at a pedestrian pace, with stops for photographs”.  The race course was challenging, with speed varying dramatically with the rising and falling terrain.  For example, Geron averaged 38km/hr for the first 21km, and then averaged 17km/hr for the 13 km climb.  This mountainous road through the spectacular Alps was at a 6 – 8 % grade for 11kms, finishing with a  14% incline for the final 2km, requiring 9 min. of standing on the lowest bike gear!  Then the fun, fast and furious descent! This included 5 switchbacks at a 10 – 14% grade.  Geron averaged 42km/hr for 35min, the fastest he has ever gone for that distance! Geron’s final bike time was an incredible 2:48:15 on a very challenging course.

Heading out on the RUN, Geron was smiling, but did exclaim, “Wow, that mountain took something out of me!”  With the 32 to 35 degree C temperatures, the run was suddenly more a survival experience than a race.  Geron walked through each water station, stuffed cold sponges and ice down his pants (helpful tip: to prevent overheating, apply cold to groin and underarms for the quickest cooling effects).  Athletes were walking long sections, throwing up along the route, and just trying to make it through to the finish.  Geron did it!  He completed the run in a time of 1:56:31.  Though not his goal time, it was completed. Geron finished the race in a time of 5:31:29 and came 34th out of 85 competitors in his age group.

Hurdles Leading Up to the RACE

JM:  “What was the biggest hurdle leading up to the race?”

Little did I know when I asked this question just how dramatic the obstacles were that Geron had to overcome in the week leading up to the race. Never mind the stress of flying overseas, trying to sleep with crying infants on a red-eye flight and then overcoming jet lag to be race ready.

The first obstacle revealed itself as Geron was assembling his bike post flight and noticed a broken nose-piece on the bike. Ironically, he had just replaced this part the week before he flew, so he knew the damage happened during the flight. This piece is essential for braking – without it you have no front brakes (kind of important to have during a mountainous race). Geron solved this crisis with some crazy glue reinforced with tape. When he did his trial ride of the full race route later in the week he was assured that he had successfully repaired the piece and eased his fears over the bike. It was going to hold and the brakes were going to work!

The second obstacle came when Geron strained his rib on a makeshift foam roller he had rigged up out of equipment he found at the hotel (something like a pool noodle). Lesson learned: don’t use new equipment the week leading up to a race. A rib-strain can take at least 2 to 3 weeks to heal. As a chiropractor and owner of Lake Street Chiropractic Clinic, St. Catharines, Geron knows the facts and he knew this was a major problem. With the use of LED In-Light Therapy (a tool he had brought along from his chiropractic clinic), kinesio tape and anti-inflammatory homeopathic remedies, Geron managed to heal quickly and perform well in the race, despite some residual pain and decreased mobility.

The third obstacle to which most athletes can relate: fighting the elements of doubt. “Have I done enough training? Could I have trained more intelligently? Was riding the course prior to the race too much?” Doubts were setting in all the more due to the bike damage and body injury. Thankfully, Geron has an incredible supporter in his wife Shelley. She had thought ahead and asked training partners, work colleagues and family members to write encouragement notes to Geron for the race (he got one from me). Shelley had planned to give the notes to Geron the night before the race, but following the rib-strain, she started giving Geron a couple notes per day. There were 11 cards in all, which leads me to the…

Highlight of the RACE

JM:  “What was the highlight of the race?”

Geron’s highlight was receiving the affirmation from loved ones. Reading and rereading the words of encouragement in the days leading up to the race, as well as reciting them during the event, greatly reduced the doubts and challenges. Geron says these words of reassurance and faith carried him through the entire triathlon! During our interview, Geron read many of these notes out-loud and got visibly emotional as he read the encouraging words. He held onto these words of inspiration in the days leading up to the race and during the race. “Your time has come. You’ve put a lot of work in. I feel that you’re ready now. All that’s left is you have to believe that you’re ready.” These were the words of support from Geron’s bike coach. The cards from his two children were particularly encouraging, as they cheered him on and described how incredible a role-model he is to them. Shelley’s last surprise was a huge custom made banner highlighting Geron’s past race successes. She held that banner up at various locations throughout the race. Geron described how powerful a tool it was to receive that affirmation from others.

Geron is almost completely satisfied with his race. He gives it a 9 out of 10! He did his best given the conditions. On another day, with a different course and different weather conditions, Geron thinks he could break 5 hours.

Future Goals

JM:“What are your goals for the future?”

Geron:  “Barrelman Half Ironman is in two weeks…” Geron is right on to the next goal. He explains that he has worked so hard all year at his swimming and cycling. He knows he as a faster race in him and thinks that now is the time to do it, when he is so fit. “I have a 32min swim in me!” Having said that, Geron also realizes that he needs time to recover from not only the physical training, but also the mental and emotional intensity that are wrapped into such a huge goal event.  Suffice it to say, Barrelman is not a sure thing, but Geron has certainly entertained the thought!

I am impressed at Geron’s work ethic and consistent training. Geron has worked hard for his successes and it is an inspiration to me and many others. I wish him rest and recovery and time to bask in the experience of the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. “Let the Happiness in!”

As I look toward my first Full Ironman race next weekend, it is incredibly inspiring to hear from the successes of others. It is time for me to soak in some of this wisdom and be strong and steady, like Geron, as I focus on Challenge Cedar Point.

Credit for the banner design in the feature image goes to Rebel Storms of Big Footprints Inc., Cambridge ON.

feature collage ironman training

Training for First Ironman

Posted by | Training, Triathlon Training | No Comments

Ironman training brings a whole new intensity to training.  I love working out and I have been running for 20 years.  I thought I was used to hard workouts, but training for my first Ironman is a whole other world.

I am now 7 weeks away from the big day – my first Ironman at Cedar Point, Ohio.  The intensity has turned up and I am experiencing “Firsts” on a regular basis:

A week ago I completed my First Olympic Distance Triathlon – Nickel City Triathlon in Buffalo. This was done to practice putting all the sports together in a race situation.  The event is much shorter than the Ironman, but great practice in doing the transitions and switching gears between the three sports.  The Olympic Distance consists of a 1.5 km swim, a 40km bike and a 10km run.  The highlight of the event for me was my fastest 40km bike, averaging a pace of 34km/hr.  The swim was fine and the run was a bit slow.  Still good enough to place first female overall and closely followed by my amazing training partner, Karen Natho.


My First over-ironman distance swim took place this past Wednesday in the Welland Canal.  A 5.2km swim from the Flatwater Centre to the 406 bridge and back was lovely!  Thanks to Scott Gibson, who joined me in the endurance swim.  Now the 3.8 km ironman swim seems manageable!  This was great practice for the long distance, as well as for the mental challenges that arise in the open water.  There was a pleasant current that assisted me to the bridge, however on the homeward journey that same current made the swim more challenging.  At one point the wind picked up significantly and I wondered if I was moving forwards at all.  A quick glance behind me showed me that I had not moved nearly as far from the bridge as I had thought.  A moment of panic and then I was able to refocus and pick one tree at a time on shore to pass.  I assured myself that I was in fact making some progress and I was able to complete the swim in 1:29:14.

My First over-ironman distance ride took place yesterday with Karen Natho.  We had an epic 207 km bike ride around the full circumference of the Niagara Region.  We visited Grimsby, Dunnville, Port Colborne, Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake.  We appreciated our lovely region and smashed the 180km ironman distance ride, something that had seemed impossible a couple of months ago, when 120km felt like a mammoth feat.

Today I am taking a day off.  I had planned to do my long run today, but family needed me and I needed time with them!  A rest day is important too.  Finally time to write a blog post.

Tomorrow I will be up early to get in the long run that I lacked this past week…

long ride

Why Every Runner Needs to Cycle

Posted by | Balanced Runner, Training, Triathlon Training | 3 Comments

I am currently on the road to recovery from a hamstring strain.  It has been a month now of nursing this injury and reducing my running.  My longest run so far is only 12 km (as a marathon runner, this is a short “long” run!).  The good news is that despite the fact that this injury is hampering my running, it is not preventing me from cycling.  Quite the opposite – I am gaining in cycling fitness, probably quicker than ever, now that my legs are fresh from the reduced pounding from running.  Here are the top 10 for “Why Every Runner Needs to Cycle”:

10. Running Injuries will happen.  Cycling keeps you moving, fit and happy.

9. Cycling is the perfect cross-training for runners, as it strengthens balancing muscles (not used as much in running) and thus helps prevent injuries from happening in the first place

8. You can colour co-ordinate your bike and your cycling jersey!  Thanks Wolf and Barb at Trysport for the awesome cycling gear!

7. Having the fitness from running will quickly translate into strong cycling.  You can quickly pick up this new sport.  The aerobic fitness is there from running and with a bit of time the leg strength for riding will develop.  Before you know it, you will have your cycling legs!

6.  You cover some pretty incredible distances as you gain fitness. Today I rode 143.8 km – my longest ride to date ever.  I visited two of the Great Lakes today, visited Niagara-On-The-Lake, Fort Erie (got a glimpse of Buffalo), Port Colborne, Welland and back home to St. Kits.


5. Variety is the spice of life – shake it up and get out of a rut.  Running your same 10 km route for years on end can get dull eventually.  Try something new.

4. Bikes are more expensive than running shoes.  Oh, maybe that is not an advantage.

3. You can ride over 100km with a pesky hamstring (or Achilles, or calf)

2. Cyclists have great legs!

1. Cycling is incredibly fun!  There is the thrill as you pick up speed on the downhills and see yourself traveling at over 60km/hr.




Break from Running

Posted by | Balanced Runner, Training, Triathlon Training, Why I Run | 2 Comments

I am currently taking the longest hiatus from running that I have taken in the last 20 years, with the exception of when I was pregnant with each of my three children.  This is a forced break from running, due to my left hamstring which has a strain at the insertion site to the glute.  I am on week two of no running.  (Well, I did sneak in a small 8km run last Thursday, but was promptly reprimanded by my physiotherapist)  How am I even surviving?  It is actually astounding that I am doing so well.

  1. Embrace Cross-training:  The timing of my new triathlon bike could not be better.  I have been doing so many amazing rides and increasing my cycling mileage. The cycling does not at all aggravate my hamstring, for which I am very thankful.  The key is to choose cross-training that does not interfere with the healing of the injury. Find sports that you love and that keep you aerobically fit, without causing any stress to the affected areas.  Try swimming and cycling.  Triathletes have a great advantage in the cross-training camp.
  2. Find Effective Treatment from Professionals:  There are many interventions that aid in the recovery from injuries.  I have had excellent chiropractic care and physiotherapy treatment for my injury.  Focus on healing and discovering the original source of the problem.  A physiotherapist will look at how you are running or moving in your sport and daily life and discover why this injury occurred in the first place.  Only then can the most effective treatment be prescribed and preventative measures taken for the future.
  3. Do your injury-specific “Homework”: My homework includes hamstring and glute stretches and strengthening exercises, as well as prescribed rest from running.  Schedule in time to do the injury specific work that will heal and strengthen the muscles involved.  Do this work when you would normally be running and view it as valuable as your regular training routine.
  4. Enjoy other Activities:  Getting out of my regular routine of running certainly shakes up my life.  It means I have strange breaks in my day and different energy levels.  For a runner to stop running is a shock to the system.  Go for walks and hikes in new places and do not think about the training effect for a change; take time to read and pray and do yoga.  Become more well-rounded and see what it is like to be a non-runner for a few days.
  5. Stay Positive:  I am focusing on the things I have gained as opposed to what I have lost.  My swimming and cycling mileage is dramatically elevated and I am loving the other sports.  I am fresh for my rides and the quality is therefore increased in my cycling workouts. A positive mental attitude makes life much more enjoyable and will only be accelerate the healing process.

I am definitely looking forward to running again soon.  I do want to ensure that it is pain-free running.  I am thinking long-term, so I will not risk a short term run because I am impatient.  In the meantime, I have many other pursuits to enjoy!


Ironman Cycling a Go….

Posted by | Gear, Training, Triathlon Training | 3 Comments

A full Ironman race is certainly a lofty goal. I have questioned whether I am actually up for this challenge. It was a long winter and though I did lots of running and swimming, I only did very minimal cycling. Finally, I am adding the third component to my training after the long cold winter.  With the arrival of spring it is time to get my ironman cycling on. There is nothing like the added excitement of some new gear that is going to get me flying!

Anyone who has done an Ironman will tell you that it is both a time commitment and a financial challenge.  I have had to figure out how to pursue this dream on a very limited budget. As the cycling portion of the ironman is 180km and takes up the longest time in the race, having a triathlon bike will make a huge impact on my race.  After selling my road bike and having the input from Wolf and Barb at Trysport, an affordable option was available.  Thank you to Trysport for building a Devinci tribike for me that is affordable, but definitely a step up from my road bike!  I am excited to wear the Aktiv Life colours and be a part of their team.

Today was my first ride on the new wheels.  I did a 50km solo ride up the escarpment in Niagara-On-The-Lake, with the scenic Parkway and beautiful sunshine.  It was very peaceful and I felt like I was flying (especially when the wind was at my back!)  I am becoming more educated on bikes and have several adjustments to make to get the fit perfect, but overall the bike is great.

One of the great benefits of the triathlon is the cross-training element.  My legs have been verging on some injuries – with tight hamstrings and some continued pain in my right heel.  I opted to take the weekend off from running, however, not from training, as I was able to get a solid workout in with the bike.  With that change in stress, I am hoping the legs will be fresh for some solid run workouts this coming week.