Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gearing Up For 2012

As 2011 comes to a close I look back on the last two months and know that I have a lot to be thankful for. I also know that I have a lot to look forward to in 2012 as well.
It was just two months ago that I finally managed to make my three year dream of training for a triathlon come true. My training isn't as consistent as I'd like it to be, but that is a goal for 2012. I am grateful for the progress I have made in such a short period of time: if someone had told me that I would run in my first 5 K race in just over a month of beginning this journey, I wouldn't have believed them, but it happened.
I am grateful to the trainers at the gym where I am currently training. their patience and helpfulness go a long way. One trainer in particular is wonderful; leaving me to do my own thing, but giving me advice and assistance when I ask for it. He's great about reading me my heart rate during workouts and checking in with me and encouraging where needed. His interest and assistance is sincere and I really apreciate that.
I am grateful to my husband, friends and family for going along with me on this crazy ride. A lot of my friends were there when I was competing for Canada as a swimmer and have been great about making sure I eat enough. My husband, although a bit resistant at first, has been very supportive in coming to the gym with me and being understanding of the time I spend training, stretching and eating. My parents have been and always will  be supportive of most of my crazy schemes and for that I love them and am very grateful. Without the support of these key people in my life, training for the 2016 Paralympic Games would not even be an option.
As for 2012, I have a few goals laid out, one of them being implementing a more consistent training regiment. Consistency is the key to success in any arena and I think getting in more frequent swims and bike rides will make a huge difference.
The biggest goal for 2012 is to actually compete in my first triathlon and in order to do that I need to follow through on the aforementioned goal. I must also get time out on a tandem bike. Another goal, which will make my competing goal more of a reality, is to find an actual training plan to follow. Thus far I have been, if you will pardon the pun, fumbling in the dark; using my swimming knowledge and hoping for the best. In order to be a  successful triathlete, a solid training plan must be utilized.
So, it is with all of these goals in mind that I welcome 2012 and say good-bye to 2011. Thank you to the people who have made the last two months possible and to those who will make the years to come possible as well.

Friday, December 23, 2011

ZZZZZZZZ: Or the Lack Thereof

What happens when your body decides that it only needs to sleep for three hours? What do you do when you are awake five hours before the alarm goes off and six hours to your workout? You blog, of course.
I'm not entirely sure what's going on with my sleeping schedule, but I can't sleep for the life of me. I'm usually a good sleeper-I know I'm lucky that way-but for some reason, this last week I can't sleep. Maybe I'm too excited about Santa coming.
Quite often, people who are totally blind, or only have a bit of light perception, have difficulties sleeping. The inability to process light confuses the chemicals in the brain and they are either not produced or too much is produced. Hence, causing sleeping pattern issues. Normally, I do not have these sort of difficulties and even though I've tried to turn my schedule around, I keep popping awake around 3 or 4 AM for no reason; regardless of when I went to bed.
Seriously though, not sleeping definitely impacts your workout, but that can't stop me today. I have today and tomorrow to get through to finish out this week's practices and I am going to do it. I had scheduled to practice transitions for the first time today. I really want to get my body used to going from the bike into a run because apparently, your legs can feel "cooked" after cycling. The sooner I learn to push through that, the better. I'm not sure if that will stay on today's agenda as I'd like to do that when I'm feeling really good, but then again, why not do it tired? Races will happen whether you've slept or not, and if it's your first race of the season or your first race ever, sleep is highly unlikely due to excitement. So, I suppose practicing transitions on about only three hours of sleep may be beneficial in the long run.
If I can do these things tired then imagine how well I'll do with a good night's sleep?
This all sounds a bit crazy, but training needs to happen when you want to reach the level that I do. Sure, you shouldn't over do it, but you also need to push and I think today may be a "push through it" kind of day. That's okay. As that old saying goes:
"Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
Or, as a coach used to say to me quite often when training for team Canada:
"suck it up buttercup."
I will be sucking it up. :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's Official

Becoming a triathlete has been something I have had in the works for just under three years now. I'm not even sure I'd call myself a triathlete just yet as I haven't even raced. Perhaps the best way to word it is that I am training for a triathlon. It's been in the last seven months or so that things have really started to come together for me. There is still a lot of ground work to be laid, not only with regards to fitness, but also in logistics as training as a totally blind athlete. However, there has been a person who has played a key role in my success up until this point and I am happy to say that she and her crew have welcomed me into their ranks.
Jan Ditchfield is dedicated to furthering blind and visually impaired people's participation in physical activity; more specifically, triathlon. It was when I was put in contact with her back in May, that things really started falling into place. Jan has been a mover and a shaker for me and a catalyst in getting my triathlon career actually in gear. I've been able to follow her lead and suggestions and have had the success in making triathlon related contacts thanks to the ground work she laid. Without these contacts, my dreams of one day competing in a triathlon would not be possible.
Won With One
is a team of visually impaired and totally blind athletes striving to compete in triathlon, whether for personal gain or with aspirations of reaching the 2016 Paralympic Games. The group is currently working on obtaining "non-profit" status and relies heavily on donations to operate. Won With One, with the help of many sponsors and donors, provides its athletes with tandem bikes, guides and various other things needed in order to compete. The group is based in Ottawa Canada, but reaches nationally, and now I suppose, internationally; considering I am in Scotland. I am incredibly grateful to Jan Ditchfield and to Won With One for taking me on, despite the distance, and can't wait to start racing with them in 2012. I think it's going to be a very exciting year and even more so now that I am a member of Won With One.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Down Time

During any kind of training, whether it be triathlon, running, professional dancing or even if you are just going to the gym to get fit, down time is always important. The human body is designed as such that inactive recovery is beneficial to a certain extent. However, a word of caution, taking too much time off from training can be as detrimental as not taking enough. There is a delicate balance, which seems to be a common theme these days, and too much rest means you are losing fitness whereas not enough and you are fatiguing your body and damaging your muscles.  Your rest day, or days, will be determined by your ultimate goals and the activities you are participating in. For me, my goal is to reach six days a week of physical activity. Not all six days are activity  intensive days, but all six days I must be doing something that furthers my triathlon training. There are two types of recovery, active and inactive, and each type has its place. When I have an entire day off, that is referred to as inactive recovery and  when I have a day where I may run a long distance, at a slower speed, then that is called active recovery. Since today is my day off, let's focus on inactive recovery.
As I mentioned above, no matter your goal or activity, an entire day must be given too inactive recovery. Now, when I use the term "inactive" I don't mean you are not allowed to do anything and must sit with your bum planted on the couch; it simply means, you are not to do any activity that may over exert your aerobic system. That said, if you feel the need to just sit and do nothing, go for it, but make sure to eat properly and hydrate while you do nothing. If you decide that you have house cleaning to do or that you need to walk the dog, go for it, but again, eat properly and hydrate. The point of an inactive recovery day is to give your muscles the chance to heal and in order to do that, you must give them the fuel-nutritional foods and water-to do so.
There are other ways to improve your recovery on an inactive recovery day. For example, take a long hot bath. The hot water will help relax hyper tonic, or taut, muscles and also decrease your brain activity. To assist with muscle soreness and recovery, add some epson salt to the water. I never used to think epson salt was all that important until I tried it for myself and was amazed at the results. The epson salt helps to draw out the toxins in your system-byproducts of your work intensive exercising-and the magnesium from the salt seeps into your muscles, aiding in recovery. To make it a bit more luxurious, buy epson salt with a scent or add your own essential oils to the water. If you feel a glass of red wine goes well with that bath, don't deny yourself, but make sure to drink a lot of water during and after the bath. The hot water will make you sweat, even if you are unaware of it, and you will lose fluids that way. Also, if you use epson salt, you will become a bit dehydrated because, well, you are laying in salt. Not to mention, wine also dehydrates the body. The biggest thing to be aware of, not only on  inactive recovery days, but all of the time, is what goes into your body; but that is for another post. If you do not have a bath tub, as I do not, pouring epson salt into a basin or bowl with hot water and soaking your feet can also be beneficial. Sure, it cannot work on all of your muscles, but if you are involved in a sport that impacts your feet/legs, such as triathlon, then you could benefit from a good foot soak, complete with epson salt. I know I do.
Another way to assist with healing on inactive recovery days is to stretch. Realistically, you should stretch every day that you are active as well, but inactive recovery days can be used as a good stretching day. If you are feeling particularly tight, or lazy, go to see a good massage therapist. A good massage will aid in the recovery process by loosening tight muscles and relaxing the body. Massages also push toxins out of the muscle tissue, so make sure to drink plenty of fluids after the massage. This will allow you to dispel the toxins through your urine and hence, aiding the recovery process.
Although the name of this type of recovery, "inactive," would suggest that you shouldn't do any kind of physical activity, walking is another good way to help muscles recover. Perhaps "walk" is not a good word: let's say "stroll." A nice, leisurely walk also provides all of the same benefits as the methods outlined above. Walking is one of the activities that uses nearly every muscle in the body and will help loosen the body. Again, make sure to hydrate and also to be aware of how fast you are walking. It is an inactive recovery day, so don't power walk; keep your heart rate low and enjoy being out in the fresh air. Also, perhaps avoid walking ten kilometres. The point of inactive recovery is to give your body a chance to do just that, recover, and if you are walking fast and/or far distances, you are defeating the purpose. This brings us back to that balance I like to talk about.
How ever you decide to spend your inactive recovery day(s), the most important thing to remember is to enjoy it. You want to wake up the next day, feeling rested and ready to workout hard.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Couldn't Have Put it Any Better

A few days ago I was browsing some blogs that I read on a semi-regular basis and I came across
this one.
The blog is written by a person whom I have known since I was twelve years old. He is an amazing athlete, a great writer and a very good friend. He does not post often, but his posts are about quality, not quantity. The most recent post struck a cord with me as it addresses some of the very real issues facing blind/visually impaired athletes with regards to finding/keeping guide athletes. Everything he says rings true and is really informative for people who may not understand the importance of a guide for blind/visually impaired athletes. It also filled me with a sense of relief, knowing that I am not the only blind athlete out there struggling to find a guide. His experience is written from the perspective of a long distance runner, but the same concepts he discusses could be applied to training for a triathlon; and, as he pointed out in a later email to me, especially so since a blind triathlete must find a guide who is not only dedicated and successful at one sport, but three. I really have much to say on the matter, but Jason has said it all for me. One day I will tackle the issues surrounding finding a guide athlete, but for now I would encourage you to go over and read his post.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hit the Ground Running

Two days off, plenty of fluids, overwhelming amounts of orange juice and Golden Seal and I was back at it today. I had felt a little rough when I woke up this morning, but a bit of a walk, a hardy breakfast and a good nap had me feeling better than I have since Saturday.
My appointment at the gym was at 4 and I arrived with some time to spare. The trainer I worked with, and have met before, took my blood pressure and talked to me about what I wanted to accomplish in today's workout and future ones. My blood pressure was a bit high-132/91-but since I am still fighting off the rest of that weird flu/cold thing, I wasn't surprised it was so high. My resting heart rate was also high at 73 beats per minute, but the same reasoning could explain that away. Also, I walk to the gym and I am not a slow walker. My heart rate could have been elevated due to the activity prior to arriving at the gym. Resting heart rates and blood pressures can, as I explained before, be attributed to sickness and the body working hard to keep or make itself healthy.
I started the workout with a ten minute or so light ride on an upright bike. The recumbent bikes do not work the correct muscle groups that I will need wen cycling 20 kilometres during a triathlon race. Although the ride was light and short, it warmed me up enough to need to take off the hoodie I was wearing and I moved from the bike over to the treadmill.
The treadmill and I have a love hate relationship; mostly it is me hating it. I think I have described the feeling of running in place for long periods of time as like being on a huge hamster wheel. I keep running and running, but never get anywhere. Apparently, if you are sighted you can watch the screen and images of where you could be running appear, but this visual stimulation does not do me any good. It is so boring! However, since running is my weakest leg of the triathlon race, I need all the help I can get and the treadmill and I will learn to love each other; or at least a sense of tolerance can be reached.
Since I had been sick and still did not feel 100 percent, the treadmill was set at 9 kilometres an hour and I ran to 3 kilometres, with the goal of running without stoping. The last two times I have run at 9 kilometres, my calves have cramped and I have either had to slow down significantly or move into a walk. Today I wanted to reach the 3 K mark without slowing and definitely without any walking. Surprisingly to me, I made it to 3 K feeling pretty good with minimal cramping. I felt like I may have been able to get another kilometre or two out at that pace; very encouraging.
After completing my run, I made sure to walk for a good ten minutes, letting my heart rate come back down. If there was one thing I learned from the sport scientist that accompanied our team around when I was swimming, it  was that warm down is one of the most important components to being a successful athlete; that and hydration.
I moved from the treadmill to the Gravity Pull Down machine and set about a few different exercises that worked my triceps-imperative to balancing on the bike and follow through during the swim-my Lats,-muscles that are important during the swim-and chest press. I also worked other aspects of my arms, back and chest as well as my core all on the same machine. I really like that the machine has so many areas it can target and that it is your own body weight that you use to cause resistance. It makes sense to me to use this machine since pulling/dragging/moving my own body weight is going to be my greatest resistance out on the course; aside from waves, uneven terrain and other athletes. The last set I did worked arms/back/chest as well as core. It is those small, intrinsic core muscles that will keep me straight in the water, balanced on the bike and upright during the run. Core was something that I feel I probably could have worked harder during my swimming career and it is something that I am ensuring I do not neglect this time around.
All in all, I think it was a very successful workout and I feel as though I gave myself enough time to get healthier without taking off too much time. Tomorrow I will attempt to get in some pool time, but it all depends on whether lanes are open at the time I am there. If that fails, I will get in a good cycle workout; now that I know that the gym is equipped with upright bikes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

To Train or Not to Train: That is the Question

There is a fine balance that must be maintained for optimal training. The body must stay hydrated, well fed and have enough sleep. Of course, this is sometimes a tough act and things will slip. When that happens evil little microbes sneak past the body's immune system and start reeking havoc on the person they have invaded. It is at the first throb of the head or scratch of the throat that the athlete must make a decision: should I push it today or take the time to heal?
This decision, at least for me, is never made lightly. There have been times I have gone to the pool when I was still swimming, with a raging fever and the shakes. Half way through the workout, I would usually get out and go home or I would finish the practice with horrible results. The next few days I would be curled up in bed, praying someone would just put me out of my misery. Sometimes the decision to practice or stay home was made for me by a coach. The coach would tell me to come in despite my angry immune system and I would go. I suppose I could have refused, there were times I did, but for the most part I went.
Now that I am a bit older and training on my own, the responsibility of attending practices faithfully falls solely on me. This can be a good and a bad thing. I think it is good because it forces me to take responsibility for my training. It can be a bad thing because I could accidentally make decisions that may impact my training in the future.
Since moving to Scotland in August, my body has battled at least two flu/colds and I am currently fighting off the third. It is a new environment with new germs my immune system has never been exposed to and so I think, despite eating fruits/veggies, hydrating, sleeping well and taking vitamins it is inevitable that I will catch something.
The current cold battle started Sunday. I could feel my throat getting sore and my body just didn't want to work. I assaulted myself with Golden Seal, a natural herb meant to assist with immunity defense, and all of the orange juice I could get my hands on. I woke up yesterday feeling horrible and wasn't up long before I went and crawled back into bed. I took more Golden Seal and orange juice and slept as much as I needed. I was supposed to go to the gym at 3 for a consultation with a personal trainer, but I could hardly lift my head off the pillow to wish my husband good luck at the gym.
Last night I slept fitfully, sweating and drifting in and out of sleep. My morning was a bit rough, but with more Golden Seal and orange juice, I managed to get out this morning. That said, I don't think the gym is on today's agenda.
So, how do you know when you should just push through something or take the time off to heal?
My honest answer is that I really don't know. It's just a feeling you have.
For me, if I feel like I am on the brink of having or have a fever, then I take time off. I've read a few articles that condone taking two days to heal off as opposed to trying to work through it and performing poorly during practices due to illness. Often, this also leads to needing to take more time off in the long run because you haven't allowed your body to heal.
Mentally, I feel guilty, but knowing that I could hardly walk from the couch to the kitchen yesterday to get a glass of water indicates to me that perhaps napping instead of trying to run six kilometres was more beneficial.
Tomorrow I will make up the missed appointment and probably benefit from it much more than I would have on Monday. The trainer is supposed to weigh me, take my resting heart rate and blood pressure. Resting heart rates rise when a person is ill as do blood pressures and so if I had gone in on Monday, the information would not have been accurate. With that in mind, my guilt eases slightly. I also feel a bit better knowing that when I workout tomorrow, I will be better able to accomplish the goals I have set out for that day's practice.
This journey is all about baby steps and learning when to push and when to rest. I don't think I have it down yet, but I'm learning.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


After my difficult run Wednesday, I was a bit worried to see what would happen the next time I laced my runners up. Originally on Friday, Emily and I were supposed to complete an 8 K run outside, but life's circumstances got in the way and I just went back to the gym to pound it out on the treadmill. Emily was not able to come with me, but my husband signed up for the gym and he came along. Even though we weren't necessarily doing the same thing, it was nice to know that someone else was there with me.
I started my workout with a five minute brisk walk. I didn't want to risk my calves cramping again. I bumped the treadmill up and ran for a good 2 kilometres at about 9 kilometres an hour before I realised the cramping in my calves had been caused by running faster than I'm ready to. I completed 2 K in less than 14 minutes and even though I was starting to hurt pretty badly, I was proud of myself. I didn't want to stop though and so just turned the speed down to about 8.5 and I was able to carry on to the five K mark with hardly any problems. When the treadmill beeped at me and slowed itself down, indicating my warm down period, I was shocked. I felt as if I could have kept running. This in and of itself also surprised me. That was the first time I've actually felt that way. As I've mentioned before, I am not a runner, but I feel as though with training I could become one; at least enough of one to complete the running leg of the triathlon successfully. I always thought running would be a struggle and to get to a point where it actually felt good and as if I could keep going was extremely gratifying.
On the walk home I began thinking about how I had felt and realised that I was ready to kick my running training up a notch. I had finally reached a level where I could actually maintain some kind of running at a half way decent pace; at least half way decent for a beginner. In order to improve even more, I needed a plan; I needed workouts that would push me without fatiguing me so much that I landed on the couch for a few days with seized muscles. Upon arriving home, I browsed the internet for running workouts that would be beneficial to triathlon training. I was overwhelmed at the number of articles published for that purpose and was having difficulty discerning between articles that were actually good quality workouts and ones that were not beneficial.
As a retired swimmer, I can usually look at a water workout and understand its purpose. From there, I can make an educated decision of whether or not I should use it. My knowledge of running is so limited that I was not able to pick a regiment for the next couple of weeks that would get me to where I want to be in three to four weeks. With that in mind, I made three appointments with the gym to discuss running sessions with a personal trainer and also emailed a friend who is currently training for the 2012 Paralympic Games scheduled to be held in London. He is a long distance runner and I hoped that he could at least point me in the right direction.
When his response came back, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he had not only given me some useful information, but had also given me some workouts for the next three weeks. They all seem doable and although I may have to do some tweaking with some of the lengthier runs, as I am not sure I can run for 70 minutes straight yet, I was, and am incredibly grateful for the guidance.
On top of all this, I also found out, from a Canadian athlete currently training for triathlon, that "the powers that be" have decided that Para (athletes with disabilities) will compete in sprint triathlons as opposed to Olympic distance events. This means that the distances for all three legs of the race are reduced by half; 750 metres for the swim, 20 kilometres for the bike and 5 kilometres for the run. Personally, I'd still like to complete an Olympic distance triathlon-1.5 K swim, 40 K bike and 10 K run-but knowing that I am now training seriously for a Sprint triathlon changes things a bit.
Today I head to the gym, armed with new running workouts thanks to a friend and a new perspective on what I need to accomplish to reach the Paralympic Games in 2016. As I have said a million times before and will probably keep saying, I have a lot of work to do still, but things are moving right along. Besides, if I ever feel that I do not have any more work to do then I should probably stop training for a triathlon. The point of competitive sport is to always strive for improvement and if I feel there isn't any more room for improvement, then I am probably ready to retire.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Bit Rough

Wednesday's session was the first workout I had difficulty completing. I've pushed through other workouts because they were physically demanding, but this one was generally hard because my body was just not cooperating.
Emily and I met for a run at the gym. We started our workout with a few sets on the Gravity pull down machine and a bit of core work. The Gravity pull down machine is meant to help us strengthen muscles for swimming and core work is just imperative to all three legs of the race. During that part of the workout, I felt a bit off, but not too bad. I made sure to hydrate properly and just thought that I felt odd because of needing to warm up. It was freezing outside and cold muscles can cause many issues.
We moved over to the treadmills and we started. I started the run portion of my workout a bit faster than I have, thinking I could handle it. I think on any other day I could have, but the first kilometre felt awful. My calves were cramping and I had one of the worst stitches under my left ribs that I've ever had. I focused on breathing, attempting to get the pain under control and move the stitch out, but it just got worse. Before I hit two kilometres, I was walking.
I walked for about half a kilometre and began running again. My calves were still cramping, but the majority of the stitch had dissipated. Within half a kilometre, I was walking again.
I made myself walk slower, pushing air  in and out of my lungs deeply. I focused on my gait, pushing my foot all of the way through its cycle and eventually the cramps in my calves were gone. I could still feel the stitch under my ribs a bit, but I vowed to start running again and to get through to the five K mark without anymore walking.
Emily sped the treadmill up again for me after about another half kilometre of walking and I was able to hold on until I reached five kilometres. It seemed harder than when I was running outside on Saturday, battling the ferocious wind. The stitch in my side returned with one kilometre to go, but I gritted my teeth and breathed as deeply as I could, despite wanting to gasp desperately for oxygen.
Upon completing the run portion, I made sure to walk it off and went to stretch out quads, hamstrings and calf muscles. I took my time, ensuring the stretches were effective and ate half of a banana in the change room to try to give my muscles what they needed.
I'm not sure if I was dehydrated, still fatigued from Saturday or not stretched properly, but whatever it was, I will work hard to make sure it doesn't happen again. It took all of my will power to run that last bit, but I feel better knowing I did it.
Yesterday was an unplanned day off for Emily and I as the pool is closed due to the wind storm we are having. Perhaps it's for the better. I have spent much of today hydrating and resting my legs. I did do a bit of cleaning, but that was the extent of my strenuous activity for the day. Today we are going to attempt to run an 8 K route outside. I'm a little nervous after Wednesday's performance, but I'm also definitely ready to work hard and have a successful workout.
This is what it's all about. Not every practice is going to feel stellar, nor am I going to be completely satisfied with the results, but that is why there is always tomorrow and a chance to improve.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Small Panic Moment

Up until now I have purposely stayed away from any kind of results posting the times of visually impaired women competing in triathlon around the world. Today curiosity got the best of me and I looked: I wish I hadn't. Okay, part of me wishes I hadn't. The times are fast; really fast. Maybe to someone who has been in the triathlon world for a while, they wouldn't seem fast, but to my newbie eyes the times seem very fast.
I don't know what I expected. Of course the times should be fast; the times I looked at were from the 2011 GE World Championships held in Beijing. The winner, who was from Great Britain, finished the race in just under an hour and 25 minutes, with the second place woman not far behind her. All of the results were broken down into the legs of the race and what shocked me the most was how fast the swim times were. Even as a retired swimmer, I'm not sure I will ever be able to swim that fast, but on the other hand, if I want to compete for medals, I'm going to have to. I could be completely off, but judging by how fast the swim times were, I have a sneaking suspicion that all of the women were visually impaired (or low vision) as opposed to totally blind. Any amount of vision gives an athlete an advantage, no matter how small it may seem.
There are many types of visual impairment, but the easiest way to explain it is someone who has low vision, legally blind (there are varying degrees of this), and totally blind, meaning completely blind. Athletes who have a bit of  vision have a slight advantage in that they can learn technique much easier and properly, which improves race times. This makes a low vision athlete's potential for faster times much more likely. There are other advantages to being low vision as opposed to totally blind, but this learning of technique is one of the most important factors.
The problem is that there aren't enough totally blind or visually impaired athletes competing in triathlon to make two separate races. In other sports, such as swimming, where there are enough totally blind or visually impaired athletes, athletes compete against other athletes with similar visual capabilities; leveling the playing field to some degree.
Knowing all of this and reading those times, made part of me wonder what I was doing. If the playing field is not level, how can I possibly contend for medals in 2016?
The other part of me, the part I usually listen to, doesn't care. That part sees it as a challenge and revels in it. Besides, if every totally blind athlete backed down just because the races weren't entirely designed with optimal fairness in mind, then there would be no totally blind athletes at all. If no one embraces the challenge things will not change and Para triathlon will never grow. Perhaps I won't make my mark by bringing home loads of gold medals, perhaps I will, but the important thing is to make changes where they can be made in order to better the Paralympic Games experience for all athletes. If that means being one of the only totally blind athletes who brings up the rear, but the rear at the Paralympics nonetheless, then so be it. If I can make this process a bit easier for someone else,that will be worth a million medals. Of course I strive for gold, but sometimes you have to find smaller, just as important goals along the way. Plus, 2016 is still five years away; a lot can happen between now and then.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Training For a Cause

Last night was my second swimming session with the Edinburgh Road Club and Emily's first. The practice went fairly well for me, but was a bit much for Emily. She left the pool feeling a bit frustrated, but after we chatted on the way home, she felt a bit better in realising that it technically was only her fourth swim practice since we started training for a triathlon just over a month ago. I told her that I was really impressed by her willingness to learn and pointed out that she had improved quite a bit even in the few, short, swimming practices we have had. Not to mention, the person coaching last night probably was not entirely aware of our situation and may not have handled the situation in the most elegant of fashions. Our discussion got us talking about our purpose in completing a triathlon and we revisited a topic we have talked at length about before.
There are so many reasons you train for something like a triathlon. Some people do it for his/her own health and make life changing strides. Others do it for the competition and the enjoyment of being involved in competitive sport. Still others do it for a cause, such as raising funds/awareness for Cancer research or reducing your carbon footprint. Emily and I both agree that we are doing this for all of the reasons above.
We are training as hard as we are to improve our own quality of life. Being physically fit and healthy leads to longer life and improved moods. We both also love competing and with our ultimate goal being the 2016 Paralympic Games, I think we are doing the right thing. We both also feel strongly about certain social issues, one of them being accessibility for people with disabilities, and so we have decided that we want to also support a cause while we train. It's another way to motivate ourselves and give back to the community that supports us in our daily lives.
The organisation we have chosen to raise funds/awareness for is one of the many guide dog organisations. I will not go into great detail right now about this particular organisation as I haven't discussed the entire idea with the fundraising committee, but guide dogs are something that are near and dear to both of our hearts. Not to mention, guide dogs are the reason I am able to do the many things I do in this world, safely and independently; including getting to and from practices and training sessions.
I have a telephone meeting with this organisation this afternoon and as soon as I know the details of our campaign or, more importantly, if they agree to our fundraising idea, I will divulge more information. I sincerely hope that this is something Emily and I can do because, as I mentioned above, guide dogs have played and are an important part of my life and I would be honoured to give back to a cause that has impacted my life in such a huge way. Besides, Emily and I are both huge dog people, what better way to get involved with dogs than to help raise funds/awareness for a guide dog organisation?
Anyway, I must get on the phone: my meeting starts soon.
Wish me luck. :)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Race Day

It's hard to believe that Emily and I have actually completed the five Km race we had set out as one of our goals for the end of the year. We've been only training for triathlon just over a month and I am so impressed with our progress. If someone had told me when we started this back at the beginning of November, that I would be running a five kilometre race being guided by a shoelace, I would have laughed at them.
I rolled out of bed groggily this morning, listening to the Scottish wind howl. The route that we would be taking was laid out right along the ocean and even though the ocean is one of my most favourite places, I knew that if the wind was whipping here then we were going to be in for a real treat once out in the open by the shore. I dressed accordingly to the weather; three layers of shirts, Under Armour pants (or trousers if you are from the UK), running pants, hat and gloves. There is no point trying to warm up for a race only to freeze the instant you stop moving. One of Emily's friends had agreed to drive us to the race and back and for that I was truly grateful. I knew we'd both be sweating during the race and sitting in the wetness on two different  buses and then walking to our respective flats could be asking for it.
It was quite obvious that we were in the right spot when we arrived. There were a lot of people in fancy running gear jogging to warm up and bright yellow markers indicated the start line. We jogged along the path a bit to get our heart rates up and spoke briefly with a volunteer who explained the logistics of getting our time when we were done. There wasn't a lot of hype before the race, but I think that is good for our first race experience. I was a bit nervous, knowing that I was the weaker of the two of us at running. We had both agreed that our goal for the race was to finish it without stopping to walk and to keep a consistent pace throughout the whole five kilometres.
One of the nicest surprises was that L, one of the coaches from Edinburgh Road Club, showed up on her bike to cheer us on. She had also brought a video camera to record our run to later analyze for technique. When I first heard her voice a small warmth bloomed in my chest: here was this woman I had met twice before giving up part of her Saturday morning to support Emily and I. L followed us along the whole race and I am really glad she was there.
The start of the race really didn't have much in the ways of organisation. People jut lined up where they felt they could run and we started. In fact, the only reason Emily and I knew that the race had started was because the wad of about a hundred people started surging down the path away from us. Emily and I started our slow but steady pace. The runners in front of us pulled away and Emily expressed her concern, but I reminded her that our goal was to finish the whole thing without stopping and that our concern was our time. She conceded and fell into a comfortable run. I also told her that not all of those people would be able to maintain that speed and that it was more important to have consistent times for each kilometre rather than burn ourselves out on the first kilometre. Right around the 1.2 K mark, my prediction came true. We closed the gap on one woman who had stopped running three times already.
Just shy of the half way mark some of the leading men were coming back towards us. Sure, I felt a little jolt at being that far behind, but I reminded myself that I am a blind woman, running five kilometres consistently for the first time. A triathlon is a long distance event and aerobic fitness is way more important to build in the next eight months or so than anything.
That wind I had noticed earlier was a bit brutal out there. On the way out, the wind was at our backs and every time it gusted I would take a few quick steps forward, slipping out of sync with Emily's steps. I worked really hard to stay in sync with her foot falls and arm swings, despite the wind slamming into my back. The funny thing is, that was almost as hard as running into the wind. At the halfway mark, we turned the bend and all Hell broke loose.
The wind whipped into our faces and the gusts that had once pushed us along, threatened to stop us completely. It was about at this half way mark that I began wondering what I was thinking. Here we were running our first race ever together, fighting gale force winds, at the beginning of December in Edinburgh Scotland. The sky had been trying to spit rain at us the whole time, but at least that held off. The only thing I could think was that old saying:
"whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
We pushed on, battling the wind and fatigue. At one point, I leaned out to my right and spit the thick saliva collecting in my mouth out and L, who was riding her bike right  behind me laughed.
"Not very lady-like am I?" I asked laughing and gasping for oxygen all at once.
Just over the three kilometre mark, I felt my legs wanting to stop. My quads were beginning to complain and they felt as though they may seize. Through sheer will, I forced my legs on, still pushing through the wind. It was just beyond this mark that my body seemed to cease to exist to me. I tried focusing on controlled breathing and although I was not completely successful, I think that is what got me through; that and L shouting at me.
When we reached the four K mark, I wanted to high five Emily the way we had at the one K mark, but my body just wouldn't break it's pattern of swinging arms and pumping legs. I gave her a smile when she told me and buckled down to reach the end. I was determined to finish running. I had a stitch in my right side that had traveled up from below my lower ribs to the front of my shoulder. I started forcing air in and out of my lungs in long breaths, even though the effort was exhausting.
As we moved along, other runners came into sight.
"I told you." I grumbled through gritted teeth.
Emily pulled ahead of me a bit, the competitor in her wanting to catch them. I wanted to catch them too, but we had come to run our own race and establish a time for ourselves. We needed to finish the whole five kilometres without stopping and I was worried that if I put in too much effort to catch the people in front of us, my legs would give out for sure. The last little bit was a bit more broken up than the first and Emily had to keep telling me "uneven" and then "clear." When she says "uneven" it means I have to focus on my feet and lifting them higher to avoid broken pavement or roots. I didn't know if I could lift up my feet and catch others, so I asked her,
"where are you going missy?"
She slowed down back to my side and we pushed on. We passed a few runners and I could hear a few more in front of us. I told Emily we could pick it up and we did with about 600 metres left to go. All in all I think we past about a dozen others struggling to the finish line and I was so happy that my strategy had worked. It won't be a strategy we use all of the time, but today's race was part of our workout cycle for this week and so it was important to stick to our plan.
I think Emily and I have a good partnership in that she has the enthusiasm and competitive hunger that drives her to  push, or at least ask if we can push it and I have the hard earned wisdom of knowing when and where to go hard.
Retrospectively, I don't think I would have done anything differently. We definitely weren't last, even though we started dead last, and we posted a good time-31 minutes-that I think we can  both be proud of. It's not super fast or anything, but it's a good starting point. What's even better is that we ran the whole race using the tether and our communication was flawless. L told us that if we could run this race in those conditions, then we could run in anything. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but we're definitely on the right track.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We Ran How Far?

Running has never been my strength, which I think I've mentioned on several occasions. When I've run in the past, I would find myself getting winded quite quickly and hating every minute of it. Maybe I just never gave it enough time or went about training for running properly, but whatever it was, I hated running with a passion. When I decided to train for a triathlon, my strong dislike for running concerned me. The run is the last leg of the race and I was worried I wouldn't be able to push myself mentally through the fatigue of having just rode 40 kilometres and swam 1.5. At least, that is what I used to think. Running is still not my favourite part of the triathlon, but today's workout made me think that this running bit was more feasible than I originally thought.
Today Emily and I ran outside, fighting bitter cold winds and near darkness. The sun comes up quite late in Scotland around this time of year and it was just becoming light when we set off at 8 this morning. We picked a trail that we've run frequently in the past. We both like it because the path is wide enough for us to run side by side, the pavement is mostly smooth and it's actually quite scenic. There are always other joggers, cyclists and walkers out and it makes the run more pleasant when you get to share a "good morning" with a fellow morning exerciser. The plan of action for today was to run in a pyramid pattern; moving from 2 minutes on with a minute's rest all the way up to six minutes on and one minute off and back down again. This pattern would give us a total of 40 running minutes and ten recovery minutes. Of course the pattern usually gets interrupted from time to time, but we try very hard to maintain our run/rest ratio. To add to it all, we decided to run the whole way  using a tether to keep us connected.
The tether is used to keep the sighted guide and the blind athlete connected without actually touching. This allows for both athletes to have better use of his/her arm swing, while maintaining a reference point for the blind athlete. Emily and I are using a shoelace doubled over on itself because it is light weight yet sturdy. We loop the lace around our wrists and into our hands, kind of in a figure eight pattern and keep the tether taut for optimum guiding. I use the information the tether relays to me about Emily's body language to keep running in a straight line and she also uses verbal cues to let me know about uneven terrain, sharp and/or gentle turns, up/down hills, other people and obstacles. This method of guiding is new to our training as we've only used the tether once before this and that time it was terrifying and exhausting.
When we first started training, we began with my forearm draped over Emily's. This position allowed me to feel her body movements and make judgments on how high to lift my feet over uneven camber and how sharply to turn. Since switching to the tether, verbal cues have become much more important. The first attempt at using the tether was absolutely frightening for me. The information I was receiving wasn't as direct and I had to concentrate harder on what we were  doing. Today though, I fell into a comfortable pattern and we never lost step with each other, despite me having to step behind Emily a few times to avoid obstacles and cyclists. I was shocked at how easy it felt to run on the tether today, when it had been such a struggle the first time out.
With the shoelace serving as my life line, we started out at an easy run. I am not going to say we are the fastest runners out there because we are not, but I am so impressed at how quickly our aerobic fitness has improved. Our training for the triathlon started about a month ago and from that time until now we've managed to increase our time and distance run by more than double. We had to "guestimate," but Emily and I are pretty sure we ran just over 12 kilometres today. Never in my life did I think I'd be able to run that far after training for such a short time. We even managed a steep, long incline about at the half way mark and even though we were fatiguing, our pace stayed steady. By the time we got back to my flat, I was near throwing up, but some coconut water, dried apples and a bunch of water made the feeling subside. Emily, being the stronger runner, didn't feel quite as badly as I did, but her legs were definitely complaining by the end as well.
Every time I think 12 kilometres, I can't help but be amazed. Who would have thought that we'd come so far so fast. There is still definitely work to be done, but it is the little triumphs, such as running 12 kilometres after only ever running 5, that keeps me going when my legs feel like lead, my lungs burn and my mouth is so thick with saliva that I want to spit. It doesn't quite feel real, so I'll have to say it again:
We ran 12 kilometres today!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Swimming in Circles Again

When multiple swimmers are thrown in to  a lane together, they are expected to swim up one lane rope and down the other. This clockwise or counter clockwise pattern keeps the swimmers from running into one another; it's kind of like driving on the correct side of the road. It's been three years since I've had to do this and last night I was thrown right in with the lane holding about five to six swimmers. I was a bit nervous at first because I was not entirely sure how excited sighted athletes would be about me being in the lane. With me swimming with them, it means watching for me when pushing off of the walls and also when I come in to stop and rest at a wall. It's not a whole lot of difference than watching for your fellow swimmers, but I can't see and so some of that responsibility falls away from me. However, I always try to be aware of the people around me. I feel for bubbles with my hands which is a good indication of someone kicking in front of you; bigger waves passing by your side could mean a swimmer passing you in the opposite direction; trailing the lane rope with my shoulder or touching it with my hand every once in a while keeps me in a straight line;  and the lane rope sagging near the wall could let me know that swimmers have stopped and are waiting for  new instructions. These are all little clues I picked up over the years of swimming competitively, but it is still a bit nerve wracking to jump into a lane of six swimmers who were all complete strangers. I did smack a few people in the back or shoulder when coming into the wall, but there  really was no reason for me to be nervous.
The first lane I jumped in to was a slower pace lane and I had opted for the slower moving crowd as I was not sure how long I could actually maintain speedy swimming. My aerobic fitness-the fitness that lets you keep going and going-is not really  as high as it used to be and I didn't want to hold anyone up or to miss sets because I couldn't keep up. After about ten to fifteen minutes of floundering in the first lane, I was moved over to a faster one. Every three strokes or so, I would catch someone's feet and once, when pushing off the wall, I swam right over a guy who was pushing off under water. I and the coaches quickly realised that that lane was not a good fit. So, I slid under the lane rope in to a faster lane.
The workout that ensued was great. It was incredibly exciting and I felt fantastic when I finished. That said, when we did the longer, faster sets-such as 300 metres at just below race pace-I felt my stroke falling apart and I started breathing way too often. Break down of stroke mechanics and over breathing are both indicative of fatiguing and lack of aerobic fitness. Also, I was not entirely sure what my "just below race pace" was as I haven't raced in a triathlon ever or in swimming for three years. With that in mind, I just pushed myself at about eighty percent effort and went for it. All things considered, I think I did pretty well. I kept the bubbles of the swimmer in front of me just at the end of my fingertips and I believe that knowing where she was motivated me to keep up the pace, despite the burning in my lungs and my arms turning into noodles. It is so refreshing to train with a team who are hard workers and incredibly helpful. Every time I came into the  wall and everyone had stopped, the swimmer furthest out from the wall would tap my hand or arm to tell me to stop. This signal kept me from smacking people or completely running them over. Two women, who alternated swimming in front of me, would also let me know when they were pushing off. This verbal cue gave me the chance to count to five and then push off, which allowed me to have enough space between myself and the swimmer in front of me while keeping me on pace with everyone else. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the openness with which I was accepted into the team. It's sad to say, but attitudinal barriers are sometimes the hardest barriers to deal with when you have a disability. The helpful attitudes and acceptance of me as an athlete made the whole experience that much more positive.
Emily was not able to attend due to a previous commitment and I was a bit worried about going without her. Emily is not only my guide when we are working out, but my eyes in the change rooms, bathrooms and also wen commuting to and from the training facilities. Eventually, I will be able to get to the training venues on my own, working cohesively with my guide dog Glacier, but since that was the first time I had been to that particular swim centre I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't be able to get to where I needed to go. One of the coaches, we'll call her L, was fabulous. She guided me on to the pool deck and basically forced others to take up her lead. I really think she will be a vital player in mine and Emily's success. L was the one who finally made the decision to move me over into the faster lane and also set the stage for people to be at ease with my disability: L didn't care and therefore no one else should.
Besides last night serving as a practice, it also was an assessment of my stroke and physical abilities at this stage. L put a water proof camera in the bottom of the pool so that she could analyze my stroke later and we had a good talk at the end of the session on how I felt during the sets. I told her quite honestly that it felt good, but that the longer, faster sets were a bit of a struggle; not anything I couldn't work through though.
All in all, I think training with the Edinburgh Road Club is going to be incredibly beneficial. Practicing with others always gives you some direction and also pushes you to work hard. If I had not been swimming behind  that other swimmer, feeling the bubbles her feet made, I'm not sure I would have pushed myself so hard. It's that little bit of extra effort that will get Emily and I to our ultimate goal of competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games.

Monday, November 28, 2011

For All the Right Reasons

Yesterday Emily and I began our week's workout with a five kilometre run on the treadmills at the gym. Up until now, we've tried to run outside as much as possible in order to train in race-like conditions and also to practice running in sync with each other, but yesterday the winds of Scotland were blowing. So, we opted to run indoors. Five kilometres really isn't that far considering eventually we'll have to run ten kilometres after having already ridden forty kilometres on the bike and swam 1.5 kilometres, but the run was good for me. Technically this is week four of our training and I'm impressed that I've made it to five kilometres so quickly. Sure, I was an elite athlete three years ago, but that was three years ago and that was also in the water. My feet feel funny pounding the pavement when they are so used to acting as flippers. That said, I'm so impressed with the progress we have both made.
Training for a sport, any sport really, can be difficult; especially when trying to get up the motivation to do something you don't like. I have been there with my swimming, but this triathlon training is so different. There is no other way  really to describe it. My attitude about it is completely different as well. I'm not sure if it's because I've matured a bit since swimming for Canada, but whatever the reasons, this is so different.
How do you know when training seriously for a sport is for you?
This past week our training together was a bit disrupted because Emily had a conference to present at; the obligations of a PhD student. We both know life happens and that we won't always be able to train with each other every day, but I was surprised to find myself missing the training and the training with Emily. Towards the end of my  swimming career,  I looked forward to long breaks and would be relieved when something switched up the drudgery of it all. I know that we haven't been doing this for any length of time yet, but the fact that I missed it and was itching to get back out there in full force tells me that I'm doing the right thing for the right reasons.
After working out, I also feel good about the work I have done and even good about the work Emily has done. Yesterday during our run, Emily had to slow to a walk because she felt light headed; probably a combination of dehydration, not enough food and perhaps too much coffee. Either way, I was so impressed by her determination. Once she started feeling a bit better, she sped the treadmill up again and finished the five kilometres, having run faster than me and up more inclines. I was quite satisfied with our progress. Yes, "our progress." Emily and I  have to be a cohesive unit in order to achieve success. We both have our roles and responsibilities as guide athlete and VI (visually impaired) athlete, but at the end of the day, her triumphs are mine, my falls are hers and vise versa. Again, towards the end of my swimming career, there wasn't much that made me excited about my practices. I usually left more frustrated than anything. Knowing that we can work out and even have a small hiccup, but carry on and reach the goal of the workout is encouraging. It's another reason why I know I am doing the right thing for the right reasons.
We have some exciting events coming up this week. Tonight we are going to our first swim practice with the Edinburgh Road Club. This club has many different athletic branches and triathlon is one of them. Emily is a bit nervous as swimming is not her strongest leg of the race, but I keep telling her that is why we're going.
Saturday we're running in our first race in order to establish a time for the five kilometre mark. It also gives us an idea of what running with other athletes will be like. I think it will be a test of our communication skills we have been slowly building as well as a fitness test. This one makes me nervous because just  as swimming is not Emily's favourite,  running is not my strongest leg of the race.
All things considered though, the fact that I can be nervous and excited at the same time about tonight and Saturday morning, tells me that I'm doing the right thing for the right reasons. Training for a competitive sport is not easy, as I've stated above, but you will know when it is for you because it will just feel right.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Officially, or unofficially depending on how you look at it, this is the very first post on Land Sea and Tires.
Welcome to our little corner of the Blogosphere where we, Emily and I, will wow you with our wittiness. Okay, perhaps, more like our craziness, but once you get to know us and what we're doing maybe you'l want to stick around.
This blog is meant to act as a place for us to chronicle our experiences as a guide athlete and a totally blind athlete, attempting to complete our first triathlon not only as a team, but our first ever. We have big goals and big dreams of one day gracing the world sporting stage with our presence and hopefully it'll be a formidable one at that. For now we are content to train and set small goals, such as running in a five kilometre race in December, but the ultimate goal is to reach the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil.
So, come back often to check on our progress and the adventures we may encounter as we navigate through the triathlon world as guide and blind athletes.