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.