Friday, July 21, 2017

A Tragedy and Small Decisions

Small decisions can sometimes have a huge impact. We had a tragedy at the Canmore quarry swimming hole yesterday. A tragedy that I stayed awake much of last night wondering if I could have made a difference.

My day was a bit packed, but not too bad.  We were planning on entertaining an old, good friend for dinner, a para-nordic coach, so I knew that if there was going to be any training this day it would have to be in the afternoon. So, between appointments at the Nordic Centre and a video conference call I squeezed in a swim at the quarry. That was decision #1. I chose between the lake and the pool, going with the former as I felt it would give me more time.

Racing out the door to jump on my bike for the 5 minute ride to the lake I quickly texted my next appointment asking for :30 more minutes. I then left my phone on the kitchen counter as I felt my unattended bike and gear would be vulnerable to a would be thief (usually not a problem, but you never know). That was decision #2, and one that I would come to regret.

As I was churning through my 4x10min laps in our quarry swimming hole  my mind began to wander thinking that I should have brought my phone with me and had the conference call at the quarry, allowing me to further enjoy this beautiful day and spectacular setting. Instead I raced home for my 3 o’clock appt. and hunched over my computer and desk.

Later that night Deb came to bed (waking me up) and said that the emergency vehicles (& even STARS helicopter) that our visiting friends had seen, were responding to a drowning in the quarry. She further related the details to me and even in my sleepy state my heart started pounding as I realized I knew exactly who perished that day.

The drowning came at 3:30, at the south end of the lake where I was. There weren’t a lot of people down there and that’s how I knew who the poor soul was. It was a 28 year old guy. I remember watching him swim out earlier as I was putting my wetsuit on (the quarry is very deep (200'+) and very cold. If you’re swimming for more than just a cool off dip, you need a wetsuit). He wasn’t much of a swimmer and I remember thinking that he better be careful of the drop off. It’s shallow, then really drops. His friends were taking pictures of their friend, and seemed to be enjoying their polar bearish friend’s dip.

According to the details I heard, the victim cried out for help, but as I remember, there were only a few young gals sun bathing. A few 100 meters up the lake there would have been more people and they’re probably the ones that responded, but it was too late. The swimmer went under and they couldn’t find him.

What rolled over and over in my head last night was that if I’d have been taking my call down there, I would have been only a few meters away. With my swim training (did a 3k open water swim race in that same quarry just 5 days before) I was probably the most fit swimmer at the entire quarry that day. Finally, I also have Water Safety Instruction Lifesaving certification (took it back in Uni, haven’t had to use since, but the skills were drilled into me). I could have been the guy that raced to his aid in a timely manner and saved the day and a life.

Maybe not. But I’m guessing I could have.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017



I lasted 1 week. My doc, a very successful ultra runner, uses this diet quite effectively and encouraged my pursuing of it. He knows it’s not for everyone. I’ve asked him questions over the last couple of years and he wisely never suggested I go ahead. He did say when I asked him how it went for him initially that he felt truly awful the first 2 weeks. No energy.

So my foray into this realm was kicked off by Dr Jason Fung’s book: The Obesity Code. Fung is a Toronto based endocrinologist that specializes in diabetes. His very good book shares how obesity is directly tied to the hormone insulin and how our diets high in sugar and refined grains really throw the balance off, resulting in lots of weight gain. Fung’s work seem solid scientifically and I decided to give a low carb, hi fat/protein diet a go.

But, as I said, I only lasted 1 week. There was just no energy. I also tried Fung’s suggestion of fasting, performing a 30 hour fast. Crazily, 1.5 days later I attempted a marathon glacier ski of 7+ hours. My ski partner that day must have been shocked at how much fitness I apparently lost as I couldn’t keep up. This is a guy who’s in very good shape, but I usually lead the way and break trail when I ski with him. But in this case I was totally, helplessly unable to keep up. Maybe the fact I could even go as far as I did was a miracle. But I took the next day off of training, opting to do some yard work, then the day after that attempted a 2 hour run. I was able to complete it, but was incredibly exhausted the whole way.

It was at this point I decided to do some more research on the diet and specifically how effective it is for endurance athletes. I had read stuff before, but I now devoured the info as one deep into it himself. What I found was that the research showed little benefit for endurance athletes unless you’re training and racing at ultra distances.... read-ultra slow. With higher intensity training you’re just going to need those glycogen stores. Now, I understand I didn’t give my body nearly enough time to even begin to adapt to the higher fat, lower carb regimen. But the more I read, I realized that to fully and effectively convert, it can take months, even years for your body to fully adapt. It was at this point I realized it simply wasn’t worth it. Plus the research showed that performance benefits really aren’t there. Maybe in terms of weight loss, but not in fitness or performance.

In the last year I’ve been reducing my carb intake as it is realizing that being older there’s going to be a weight issue. I’ve also learned from Fung’s book how to reduce crazy out of control insulin production. Here’s some of the things I’m changing in my day to day diet and life:

-cut as much sugar out as possible (some of this for me includes my daily orange juice)
-reduce processed foods as they almost always contain sugar, & worse, hi fructose corn syrup

-when eating carbs, combine them with hi fiber foods and fat to slow insulin effects

-No snacking between meals. So insulin system is only at work 3x a day v. all day long

-periodic fasting to give the system a break and possibly reset insulin resistance-get healthier fats into my diet. Whole milk, mct supplements, coconut oil in my coffee, yogurt with hi fat, no sugar, etc.

-eat clean!!

The lo carb diet probably would have helped prevent cancer (which is abundant in my family) or type 2 diabetes, but I’m hoping the moderate diet changes will help these 2 areas though and also with weight maintenance. Bottom line.... no more Coke!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Racing Disasters

In my personal race history of1000's of races (xc ski, running, ultra trail runs, Triathlons, skimo, etc.) I’ve only dropped out of 3 races. The first one was an XC running event in high school. I wimped out. I felt so ashamed I vowed to never repeat the dishonourable act. #3 occurred this week in the Pierra Menta skimo race. An event I’ve dreamed of, trained for, schemed, watched countless Youtube Vids for years, etc.. As I write this I’m still very emotionally raw from the  DNF. What makes this so much more difficult is that this race is a partner race, and when I quit, my partner quits. Every bit of money, time, planning, etc. I’ve invested...he’s invested. And when I absolutely (I believe) had to pull the plug and see all that go down the drain, he had to watch his efforts and resources also pour down the drain. That’s what makes it smart the most. It isn’t just me.

The reason for the forced DNF was 3 totally sleepless nights. The race provides housing (part of the package) and the “bed” I was forced to use was basically a cot with a 40 year old foamy over a thin plywood sheet. Easy to see why the first night, combined with race nerves and intercontinental travel, conspired to block any sleep. For the first day’s demanding leg, I felt I bravely soldiered on despite the fatigue. I certainly would have been much faster, as measured by some other skiers I knew in the race, but got through it and was looking forward to the next stage. Now, realize that these stages are 4-5 hours long and an absolute full out effort the entire way. So you obviously need to be at your physical peak. Night number 2, probably because of the fatigue from the first day, was a repeat of night sleep. None. I lined up for the days race feeling about the same fatigue that I’d usually feel at the END of the race...not the starting line. It was a tough day. I got towed a lot. But I actually picked it up a bit at the end and was pumped and proud to be half way through the 4 day stage race, albeit on absolutely NO sleep. However I was desperate now.

So in this desperation entered  help from my friend that brought along his sleep aid and absolutely swore to it’s effectiveness. With very specific instructions I took the little pill. It worked... for an hour. Then my roommate came in and woke me up. Bam. Back to yet another night of sleeplessness. I couldn’t believe it. I did fall asleep for maybe 1.5 hours just before wake up time. The even more unfortunate part was the massive hangover from the pill. I was weak, shaking and couldn’t think straight. There was no way I could even drive to the start. I had to get my race partner to do it for me. I lined up fearing what the day would bring with how I felt. The start actually went ok. I went conservative on the up, passed many on the down then settled into a pace, yet had to be towed again. What a bummer for my partner. He must have been thinking what a loser I was. The first climb was really long and after awhile just didn’t have the brain power and function to push my body. When we got into the alpine, my weakness wasn’t enough to keep my body warm and we were in a very remote place. I was getting nervous.

My poor race partner went ahead, but my pace slowed to an incredible turtle crawl. In all my marathons, Ironmans, various ski races, I’d never died to such a pace before. We were hopelessly behind any respectable racers. I felt such despair, “How could this be happening” I wondered.
With the remaining last bit of the 3rd climb and the 4th one still to come. We made the obvious decision to pull the plug. The course Marshall commented on how white and milky my face looked. I was incredibly exhausted. More than any race I’ve ever done (of the 1000's previously mentioned).
As I reflected the next day, I wondered if perhaps I could have sat down, ate and drank some calories and try to at least finish so we could take part in the best stage of all, the final one with it’s massive party at the top of the mountain. But I know that in the condition I was in, it was probably impossible to do that. I think I’m a pretty tough guy, a history that goes back to when I was all of about 110 lbs in grade 7 on a bike trip where a bunch of us got food poisoning. I got it the worst, but kept soldiering on with 100 mile plus days despite continual puking and dysentery. From that experience I always believed I could tough out the worst of situations.I had at least one friend (who was in the race) that commented they couldn’t believe I got as far as I did. I don’t know.  But this I do know...I felt so gutted emotionally that I just wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. Never race again. Never face any friends and family again who were witnesses to this failure and especially my race partner for whom I just want to die and never have to face the embarrassment of letting him down.

As for my race partner, we just met for this race. Didn’t prepare together, didn’t have a previous friendship or  emotional bond, etc. He has been incredibly gracious. I can tell on the inside he’s seething though and I would be too. He’s a really cool guy and I feel so blessed to have gotten to know him in the days leading up to the race, yet now I can only think he wants nothing to do with this loser that totally screwed up this incredible opportunity. He’s young. He’ll be back to France and  race with a fast partner and he’ll do well. Even take this broken effort’s lessons and experiences to the next race. As for me I probably was looking at my only kick at the can in this event that in some ways would have completed my skimo race career experience. Never say never, as you never know.

I had an interesting talk with one of our roommates, Rory, a very fast Cat 1 bike racer from CO. He related how there were times when he was completing a bike race disaster where he was mulling over in his mind during the final miles how he’d sell all his bike stuff and never race again. But of course, here he was, racing, hammering and still putting it on the line. For myself, I too was planning on never, ever racing skimo again. How could I face the skimo race community? I feel such failure and embarrassment that I didn’t want to weather the shame. But it turns out that it’s been this community that has really given me the most encouragement and affirmation. Especially my friends Stano and Michelle. The latter commented on how she couldn’t believe I got as far as I did, given the sleeplessness and intensity of this 4 day multi stage event. I don’t know, but the next day I made a decision. There was this super cool Karpos race suit in one of the ski shops. I began to contemplate buying it as it would give me just a glimmer of hope and desire, maybe even a reason to race again. Our sport is so gear intensive and it’s the gear part that enhances the fun.

So yeah, I pulled the trigger, got the suit and I’m thinking about our final skimo race of the year in Lake Louise. But I need some healing time. I plan on going to the mountains a lot when I’m home. Find the joy in skiing and being in the backcountry. Another consideration is my daughter. She just returned from the World Jr Biathlon champs where she had the most unbelievably bad shooting. Only a couple gals in the field shot worse. So I ponder, what kind of example will I be to her. She’s obviously watching me and I don’t want to mess up. She actually has bounced back already, medaling at Canadian Nat’ls just this week while I’m away. She’s mentally strong, and sometimes it seems she handles these storms better than her father. I want to make sure I’m leading by my example here and showing her how to have hope, learn the lessons that are supposed to be learned and bounce back with a positive attitude.

So then, what exactly are the lessons I’m learning? The first one is to meet with my doc as soon as I’m home and dial in an effective sleep aid. One that I’ve used, know well and have a track record in using it. Even just having this back up plan will probably contribute to my sleeping better. I’ve raced in Europe a lot. XC marathons, AIA sports tours, skimo major events, etc. and I’ve always been able to dial my sleep in usually within 5 days. I’ve got several personal tricks I use, none of which helped me this time. So I need to have a back up “sleep aid plan”. I’ve also learned that skimo is really about only a couple core things. One of them is the skiing. It’s all about the skiing.....finding the joy on the boards, learning to go faster and be bolder. Skimo is also about the people. Though I’ve commented on how letting people down has made this experience far harder, it’s also the people around me that have helped and encouraged me unbelievably. One glance at the many messages on my FaceBook page when I shared what happened totally makes me realize that I’m one of the richest men on the planet. That is if you measure riches by the number and quality of your friends.
I suppose that eventually the pain will subside and be replaced by other goals, but for now just thinking about this disaster produces such an intense emotional cringe. It’s painful. Also embarrassing. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully forgive myself for what I did to my ski partner, and that’s what probably hurts the most.